The Hunt: Die Hard-inspired Sequel Idea Revealed for Lindelof, Betty Gilpin Thriller

When production first began on The Hunt (now streaming on Peacock) in early 2019, no one could have anticipated how controversial the film would end up being. The blood-soaked satire co-produced by Blumhouse and Universal Pictures had but one purpose: to lambast the deep ideological chasm dividing the United States and the loonies one is apt to find on the far sides of its two-party system.

“It felt like we were going to do something that Mel Brooks would have done if he was an action movie director,” the movie’s cinematographer, Darran Tiernan, tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom.

RELATED: Need more after Mrs. Davis? Stream Betty Gilpin & Damon Lindelof’s other team-up The Hunt on Peacock

While the Hostel meets The Most Dangerous Game script by Damon Lindelof (Watchmen) and Nick Cuse (Station Eleven) was larger-than-life, Tiernan and director Craig Zobel (the two had previously worked together on television shows like Westworld and American Gods) sought a more grounded visual language.

“One thing that came up pretty quickly is we both felt that the film had to feel quite realistic,” the director of photography explains. “I know that wasn’t to everybody’s taste. I think I saw some pretty harsh criticism of, ‘It’s quite dreary,’ and stuff like that. I just think it was being realistic. So when you’re watching it, you feel like it’s real, even though it’s very heightened. It’s hyper-real.”

The rise and fall (and rise again) of The Hunt

Once details of the plot (wealthy and politically-posturing “elites” hunt conspiracy-spinning and bigoted “deplorables” for sport) became common knowledge, public outcry — which included a tweet from then-President Donald Trump — forced the studio’s hand. The project was yanked from its late September 2019 release and shelved indefinitely. Rather ironic, given the film’s deference to the works of anti-censorship poster child George Orwell.

“Pretty interestingly, none of these people had seen the film, so that was what was kind of hilarious about it,” Tiernan says. “I don’t think anyone should react to extremists in that way. It’s the same as trying to ban books. It’s silly, especially when people haven’t read them or even tried to understand them.”

The move to put The Hunt on ice came as a real blow, confesses the DP, who goes on to explain that despite its comedic elements, The Hunt “does touch on very important things” regarding America and the world beyond. “I think if there is a message in the film for me, it’s: ‘Everybody’s wrong [and] we need to meet in the middle more.’”

After several clever misdirects near the start of a breezy 90-minute runtime, GLOW (and now Mrs. Davis) alum Betty Gilpin takes the lead as the taciturn and sole voice of reason, Crystal May Creasey, “an every person-type of character who really just wants to leave and doesn’t want to be in that place,” Tiernan notes. Of course, Crystal isn’t an easy target as the Uber-affluent a**holes trying to kill her soon discover.

“Every sequence of Betty was always incredibly enjoyable [to shoot] because Betty’s an incredible actor and she has such a range,” the DP says. “She really had fun with the character; she could play with it and see wherever Crystal was coming from.”

The studio ended up pushing the movie’s release to mid-March of 2020, which resulted in yet another stroke of bad luck: an emerging pandemic was about to shut the world down until further notice.

The Hunt played on the big screen for no more than a week in North America, netting just under $6 million domestically before Universal decided to release the title on VOD platforms. In a way, however, the delay ultimately felt appropriate with the movie presciently arriving the cusp of a vicious divide based on how to properly comport one’s self during a worldwide health crisis.

“I think because it didn’t get in the cinemas and then the pandemic happened, maybe we were somewhat shielded from [more controversy],” Tiernan muses. “Times weren’t normal, it wasn’t like we were all just out and about talking about things. I do enjoy hearing that people just found it a couple of years after it was released. I do enjoy that people have watched it and enjoyed it for what it is.”

International ticket sales boosted the movie’s final box office gross to $12.4 million, while an extra $4.6 million in home video sales carried the movie to $17 million (not enough to recoup the $18 million production budget, though). Had The Hunt performed better financially, a sequel might have been green-lit. Speaking to ScreenRant in March 2020, Lindelof, Cuse, and Zobel touched on the idea of a second movie, stating that the realm of wild conspiracy theories represents “a very fertile space for storytelling.”

Could there have been a sequel to The Hunt?

Tiernan, on the other hand, reveals there “was talk” on set of a Die Hard with a Vengeance-esque follow-up involving the sister of Athena Stone (Hilary Swank), main antagonist of the first movie and organizer of the titular bloodbath.

“I can’t remember the pitch exactly, but it might have been that Hilary Swank’s character had a twin sister and then she comes after Crystal,” he said. “But much more kind of cat and mouse, which would have been fun. I don’t know whether that was a bit of a joke or they were just chatting amongst themselves, but I thought that was a really interesting premise for a sequel. But who knows? I know Damon just finished his new show, Mrs. Davis, which has Betty in it as well. He’s obviously a big fan [of hers] and I know Craig is a big fan of Betty. I’m sure they’ll work together again.”

What to expect from The Penguin spinoff series coming to Max

Tiernan is currently in New York, serving as director of photography on The Penguin series based on Matt Reeves’ The Batman. Expected to drop onto the streaming service formerly known as HBO Max next year, the 8-episode spinoff will follow Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell) as he amasses a vast criminal empire following the death of Carmine Falcone (John Turturro).

“It’s set about a couple of days after The Batman finishes and it’s been hugely enjoyable because Colin is amazing and I only ever see him as Oz or the Penguin,” Tiernan admits. “I can’t even remember what he really looks like. It’s been quite a trip [and] I’m looking forward for people to see it.”

To properly emulate the aesthetic established by the film, Tiernan had “a lot of conversations with” Reeves and his cinematographer, Greig Fraser. At the same time, it was decided The Penguin would be granted the leeway to forge its own stylistic path.

The Batman’s signature style … is beautiful and I can’t believe it wasn’t nominated for an Oscar because I’ve over-analyzed it at this point and it’s pretty amazing the work they did. The Batman is very much the Batman story,” Tiernan explains. “So as much as we honor that world of Gotham, The Penguin has a [separate] story and that creates its own energy, its own kinetic energy. My hope is that it’ll be a great bridge between The Batman 1 and The Batman 2, which will eventually start shooting late this year or early next year.”

He concludes: “I think we’ve honored [the movie] quite well, but are also kind of evolving it to honor the Penguin’s story because he is a different character. There are great scripts and we’ve just been having a lot of fun shooting it. Colin is so watchable as the Penguin and all the other actors in it… there’s like comedy and things that you read on the page and there’s no way I thought it was funny until they deliver it. And you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ So it’s been really interesting.”

The Hunt is now streaming on Peacock alongside all episodes of Mrs. Davis.