The Hunt (Jagten)

A winter witch-hunt - ★★★★½

A winter witch-hunt – ★★★★½

Films dealing with child abuse are never to be comfortable viewing. But what if the real tragedy of a story was that a man was wrongly accused of abusing a child and thrown to the edges of society?

Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt tackles just that scenario. At the centre of his film is Mads Mikkelsen’s Lucas, a kindergarten teacher whose marriage has fallen apart and he is struggling to put together a new life with a girlfriend and custody of his son. A disagreement/misunderstanding with Klara, one of the children in his care who happens to be the daughter of his best friend, allows the powers that be to jump to conclusions and brand Lucas a paedophile. As the days and weeks go by, Lucas’ inner circle shrinks as the entire village turns on him without offering any opportunity to prove his innocence.

The film raises a lot of big questions about society and how we deal with claims like this. Klara’s initial statement is so vague but the scenes between her and the nursery’s principal (pictured above) pull out more and more details for a false accusation and show just how easy it is to allow a seed of doubt to grow into a full-on set of dangerous accusations. Klara’s parents and teachers are all baying for blood and want Lucas to be guilty, even when Klara protests and says he did nothing to her it’s not enough to stem the tide of contempt toward him. The audience is given next to no information about the police investigation in play with Vinterberg and Thomas Bo Larsen’s script instead allowing the village community to be the real jury – just like any witch-hunt from the last 1000 years.

| o | – ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again…’

Mikkelsen’s performance was honoured at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival with an award for Best Actor. It really is a remarkable piece of work as he conveys so much about his plight simply through his eyes. He has a natural chemistry with Annika Wedderkopp (Klara) which makes the scenario they find themselves in all the more compelling. On some level Lucas must truly hate Klara for making the initial claim against him but instead we see only compassion with the real vitriol reserved for those who are supposed to be protecting her.

Similarities with David Fincher’s take on the Steig Larsson novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are unintentional but the Scandinavian Christmas setting and “we don’t want you here” draws to mind that film’s big marketing slogan of “The feel bad movie of Christmas” applies just as much, if not more to Vinterberg’s film. The Hunt is a thrillingly uncomfortable film that with a few minor tweaks could have been set in any small town at any time in the last fifty years.

The film isn’t perfect by any means with an unnecessary epilogue, some predictable moments (the dog) and obvious metaphors like the uber-male activity of deer-hunting in play. But it’s easy enough to put these aside when the direction and compelling performances are this good – thanks Denmark!

Denmark  /  Directed By: Thomas Vinterberg  /  Written By: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm  /  Starring:  Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp  /  115min  /   Drama   /  Release: 30 November 2012 (UK/Ireland)