LFF 2012: THE HUNT Movie Review
It’s often been thought that Thomas Vinterberg will be never be able to match the success of his early ’90s Dogme masterwork Festen. However, the director’s latest film The Hunt is perhaps a career best, following a nursery teacher in a tight-knit Danish community named Lucas whose life is turned upside-down by a shocking allegation.
Lucas lives a quiet, lonesome existence that predominantly revolves around tending to his pet dog. Nonetheless, he’s a popular figure in the town, much loved by his colleagues, students and their families. Things take a turn for the worst, however, when a 4-year-old student, Klara, alleges that Lucas sexually abused her. The allegation is taken to the police and a trial is set which will decide his guilt or innocence, but as he waits to have his name cleared those who once treasured Lucas turn against him.
We realize all along that Lucas is an innocent man. Klara’s allegation hasn’t stemmed from abuse but instead an exaggerated imagination and distortion of memories. Vinterberg’s film, therefore, asks tough questions about how one can determine guilt or innocence in cases where it’s essentially one person’s word against another. Do you believe a young girl whose memory is unreliable or a grown man with the capacity to understand what’s at stake and lie?
Knowing that the hugely affable Lucas is innocent, furthermore, it’s heartbreaking to see him become the victim of his community’s mass hysteria. Even the slightest of injustices such as being banned from a supermarket where he does all his shopping are tragic to behold. It’s partly because we spend so much time with him before the allegation to become invested in his fate, but it’s mainly because of Mads Mikkelson (Casino Royale, Pusher) whose performance in the leading role is outstanding. It’s a masterclass in how less is often more, never resorting to the melodramatic or sensational in order to portray Lucas as an ordinary human being no different from the rest of us.
But as much as Lucas is the victim is Thomas Vinterberg’s story, the community who put him through this abuse are rarely portrayed as the villains. Instead, their emotional reactions to the allegation that Lucas sexually assaulted a 4-year-old are (though in some cases extreme) often very relatable. In a masterful stroke, the writer and director sporadically puts us in the shoes of the town throughout The Hunt to makes us doubt the innocence of Lucas. It allows us to appreciate how serious an issue it is and the trauma it is inflicting on Klara’s friends and family.
As Lucas’s court case grows closer and closer The Hunt escalates in tension. Over the course of its two hours the film slowly builds from being an insight into someone outcasted from their community to a crescendo of horror that sees Lucas become the victim of traumatic emotional and physical abuse. It’s tough to watch, but the storytelling is handled in such a skilful fashion by Vinterberg that you cannot avert your eyes.
The Hunt is consequently one of the Danish film maker’s finest works to date. He takes the controversial subject of determining guilt and innocence in cases of pedophilia but treats it with sensitivity and skill, crafting an unforgettably powerful human drama.