In a small Danish town preparing for the oncoming chill of winter, a little girl named Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) begins to develop an innocent crush on the town’s favoured kindergarten teacher, and her father’s best friend, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen). To show her affection, she puts together a small present for him and goes in for a kiss one day during recess, leaving Lucas shocked and in a position where he must quickly dissuade her. Not fully understanding Lucas’ reaction, Klara feels slighted and voices her displeasure later that night to the headmistress. Suspiciously, her words carry some surprising sexual undertones that deeply alarm the school teacher. From there, an investigation into the potential allegations ensues and village-wide hysteria begins to call for Lucas’ head.
“It’s not true.”
The events of Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” begin quietly. The town in which the film is set is portrayed as a typically uneventful suburb, while Mikkelsen’s Lucas is shown early on to be nothing more than an ordinary man. Through pictures hung in bustling corridors and stories told over late night drinks, we learn that this is a tight-knit community that spans back generations. It’s also one in which Lucas is a fixed member, making it unthinkable that anyone would blink an eye at the time he spends rough housing with their children or walking Klara to school, hand in hand. It’s this slow build and dedicated construction of atmosphere that makes the turn of events upon the investigation’s launch so gut-wrenching to watch. In only 111 minutes of screen time, the shifting emotions and escalating tensions of this sleepy wooded community heighten to a point that transforms “The Hunt” into a truly unforgettable piece.
When news begins to spread that one of the children has been allegedly hurt, it doesn’t take long for the townspeople to rally together and start debating their next move. Although the lie initially begins and ends with Klara, parents are warned to watch out for warning signs of abuse, such as bed wetting and nightmares, subsequently leading to more allegations and an increasing sense of anxiety. The change in tide is immediate and chaotic, causing Lucas to be confronted as a social pariah who is banned from entering shops and watched closely even while inside his own home. Although a trial has yet to be called, it’s clear that judgement has already been passed. All the while, Lucas is at a loss. From the beginning, the audience is let in on the fact that Lucas is an innocent man. So, while we’re forced to watch as a town collectively falls into blood thirsty madness, we’re also allowed a glimpse into the personal hell of a man who has done nothing wrong. Mikkelsen plays his role with dignity and the unwavering strength of a man who insists that he continue to be treated like a human being.
“You’re no longer welcome here.”
The success of the film ultimately lies in the fact that it simply sits back and allows events to unfold at their own pace. While there are certainly some heart stopping moments, the action is minimal and we’re instead treated to a string of intimate moments that hold much more weight than any other style of direction could for this situation. While this is a tale that has been told many times before, the scenes where we see Klara’s father struggling to make sense of the fact that its his best friend who’s said to be behind it all, or the moment where Klara, herself, stands crying at Lucas’ doorstep over her own inability to grasp the situation make this a variation that will definitely leave an impression.
I do have one issue, however. This is an incredibly well made film and its exploration of an innocent man’s penance is impressively done. The final minutes, in particular, are breathtaking in their underlying purpose. But, I can’t help but feel that the twenty minutes or so leading up to those moments detract somewhat from the film’s finale. Not to give anything away but the film’s building momentum was brought to a very jarring halt that, even looking back on it now, feels way too optimistic for a tale of this sort. As I said, it’s soon replaced by an awesome ending, but the sudden shift is still something that I have a hard time ignoring.
Nevertheless, “The Hunt” remains a haunting film with a stunning performance from Mads Mikkelsen as its lead. Although it boasts some beautiful cinematography and a diverse cast, this is an isolating, modern day witch-hunt that proves quite difficult to watch, but is also well worth the journey.
My Rating: 8.5/10