Battle Royale was a film that came into my life at a very formative time. After having my eyes opened to the horror genre with Evil Dead II, compounded by a familial appreciation of Japanese cinema, further charged by seeing an image from Hideo Nakata’s Ringu on an issue of Fangoria, my brother and I began importing the latest East Asian releases we could find on VCD in the early days of the internet. That’s how we were introduced to Stephen Chow, the breadth of Chow Yun-fat’s filmography outside of his work with John Woo, and most importantly for me: contemporary horror, which Battle Royale was a modern classic.
Flash forward to 2018, and the influence of Battle Royale remains undeniable. From a litany of copycat films like The Condemned and most famously The Hunger Games (despite author Suzanne Collins claiming to have never heard of Battle Royale before writing her series) the idea of a bunch of teens being forced to kill each other lest they are killed is still chilling. But we’re soon to get a new film that may refine the most unnerving aspect of this type of story: its political machinations.
The creatives behind HBO’s hauntingly powerful series The Leftovers are teaming up to bring us The Hunt, Bloody Disgusting exclusively revealed. The film will be written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, and directed by Craig Zobel (Compliance) and produced through Blumhouse. All three worked on The Leftovers, with Zobel directing some of the most notable episodes like “International Assassin” and the penultimate episode of the series, both of which were written by Cuse and Lindelof. Scant plot details have been released, but apparently, it will follow a group of working-class citizens who are being hunted down “Battle Royale-style”. But the root of that story, and another inspiration behind The Hunt, began much earlier than the year 2000.
Before Stephen King by way of Richard Bachman introduced us to reality television mass murder in The Running Man or even William Golding showed us what would happen when we’re left to our own devices in Lord of the Flies, we had Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game. First published in 1924, and adapted countless times over for radio, television, and film, the story concerns a man who finds himself a castaway on an island inhabited by a hunter who has grown tired of his typical prey and decides to hunt any person unfortunate enough to find themselves shipwrecked. Clearly, with a title like The Hunt, Connell’s story will most likely be pulled from first before sprinkling in any Battle Royale’s gruesomeness. But while the structure for The Hunt may mirror The Most Dangerous Game first and foremost, the meat of the film is where the Battle Royale comparisons will factor in.
While a majority of Battle Royale is dedicated to the titular event, we spend a good amount of time in the command center of the competition, hearing about the ins and outs of why these blood fests occur. And while we do get political allegories in comparable films like The Hunger Games, especially as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) uses Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as a political pawn, by placing the story in such a recognizable dystopian future the creator’s distance the audience from the impact. It divorces it from our own reality and makes it clear cut sci-fi. A pitfall I don’t expect The Hunt to fall in to specifically because it’s coming from the creators of The Leftovers: a high genre show that never showed its hand.
For those unfamiliar, The Leftovers was a show about a rapture. But also not. While a percentage of the global population vanished during The Sudden Departure, the answers to these questions are never what the show is searching for. Instead, we get a fatalistic meditation on a society frozen in a moment, attempting to move on from tragedy. It was the show’s biggest question: what do you do when you can’t go on, but you still must? Coupled with these themes though was still the looming unanswered question of what happened to everyone. And while the series may have given us a semblance of a conclusion, it just reinforced the high genre peddle tone of the series. The Leftovers may have been grounded, but it was still set in a heightened reality uncomfortably close to our own.
What Lindelof and crew could do with The Hunt is reignite that genre spark of The Leftovers, while not allowing the film to suffocate in heightened motifs like The Hunger Games. We can enjoy those films because we don’t live in a society like Panem. But when this same type of state-sanctioned violence feels like our own backyard? The violence shifts from being desensitized fun and becomes a much more sobering reality.
By having the story focus on “the working class” there’s no doubt that the film’s aim will be reflective of our modern political climate divided by economic status. The film, currently slated for release on September 27th, 2019, is conspicuously close to Labor Day in the United States. I wouldn’t be shocked if this was intentional, much like when Blumhouse released The First Purge on Independence Day (with an equally politically heavy one-sheet). For a film ostensibly about the elite class hunting the working class, it’s heartily ironic to release the film close to a holiday meant to celebrate those who work hard for this country.
But this level of attention to intention is exciting! It’s welcoming to see a studio taking care to release their film at a time when their message will be amplified the most, and if giving The Hunt the same treatment as The Purge, then we could also be witnessing the birth of yet another socially conscious horror franchise from The House of Blum. And in an era when we need strong, smartly written stories like this, they couldn’t have found a better team than the ones behind The Leftovers.