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New Jason Isaacs Thriller Created Fake News Sites To Promote Itself

It’s a good rule of thumb that if a certain method of disseminating information has, say, recently provoked someone to fire an assault-style rifle in a crowded restaurant, it’s ill-advised to turn to that method to market your new film.

That’s a memo that reached the folks at 20th Century Fox too late: As Buzzfeed reported on Monday, the film studio created five fake news websites to promote its upcoming Jason Isaacs and Dane DeHaan-led film “A Cure For Wellness,” which opens Friday and, if advance reviews are much of an indication, doesn’t really deserve the trouble. (The New York Daily News’s Joe Dziemianowicz, for one, called it “preposterous gothic nonsense.”)

The sites, all of which now redirect to the film’s homepage, were called the Salt Lake City Guardian, NY Morning Post, Sacramento Dispatch, Indianapolis Gazette, and Houston Leader. A 20th Century Fox spokesperson, corresponding with Buzzfeed, confirmed that the organization had cooperated with fake news distributors in promoting the Gore Verbinski-directed film.

“‘A Cure for Wellness’ is a movie about a ‘fake’ cure that makes people sicker,” 20th Century Fox said in a release. “As part of this campaign, a ‘fake’ wellness site was created and we partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake news.”

As The New York Times reported Tuesday, a number of the click-hungry pieces published by the websites, a sampling of which included “LEAKED: Lady Gaga Halftime Performance to Feature Muslim Tribute” and “Utah Senator Introduces Bill to Jail, Publicly Shame Women Who Receive Abortions,” were shared by thousands of social media-users who took them as fact. At least one claim, that President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had been spotted together at a Swiss resort in advance of Trump’s election, made enough noise to warrant an investigation by Snopes, which, unsurprisingly, labeled the item as false.

The fact that Trump and Putin’s alleged meeting happened at a Swiss resort, specifically, wasn’t accidental; “A Cure For Wellness” is set at a Swiss health resort where — surprise, surprise — all is not what it seems.

In using the websites to market the film, 20th Century Fox and New Regency Productions, the film’s production company, sprinkled references to its plot, title and setting through seemingly unrelated so-called articles, and wrote other articles referencing the film directly. A screenshot of a Salt Lake City Guardian homepage, captured by Buzzfeed, showed one article titled “Psychological Thriller Screening Leaves Salt Lake City Man in Catatonic State,” accompanied by a still from the film.

It’s one thing to deceive people about the quality of your film, another to deceive them about fraught political issues in the name of promoting that film. Isaacs appears to agree: On February 3, he took to Twitter to criticize Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway’s citation of a massacre that never happened as justification for Trump’s immigration and refugee ban.

Actors rarely have input into how their movies are marketed, but perhaps Isaacs will want to have a chat with his film’s distributors. It seems they could learn something from the downfall of the villainous character he played in the Harry Potter films, Lucius Malfoy: what’s profitable and popular is not necessarily right.

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