A low-budget Danish film about an accused paedophile staring an ex-Bond villain might not be everyone’s idea of a great Saturday night at the cinema. However, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, starring Mads Mikkelsen, is one of the best pieces of truly affecting and emotionally engaging cinema I’ve seen in a very long time. The last film I saw that made me feel such depression, disgust and melancholy was last year’s Shame. That film, however, I felt lacked any message or point. The Hunt certainly makes its point. Unlike Shame or Lars Von Trier’s similarly depressing and relentless masterpiece Dancer In The Dark, this is a morality tale, a warning, a social comment; humans and community as a baying pack of wild animals driven by illogical fear and hearsay.
Lucas, played by the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen, is a teacher who is reduced to working in a nursery after his school was closed. He is divorced and fighting for custody of his teenage son while his obstructive and unsympathetic ex-wife stands in his way. The town he lives in is a tight knit community where everyone knows everyone else, Lucas grew up here and has a close group of friends from childhood with whom he still drinks, laughs and participates in traditional hijinks and hunting with. Lucas is particularly fond of and very sweet towards his best friends young daughter , Klara who attends to the nursery he works in; he walks her to and from the nursery, looks after her when her parents are busy and lets her play with his beloved dog, Fanny. Klara develops a crush on Lucas and after her affections are rebuffed by the older man makes up a bitter and spiteful lie that one would not think capable of a child. Once this lie is out of her mouth it snowballs, spreading like a cancer through the community. Lucas is fired from his job, forbidden from seeing his son, loses the woman he was dating, banned from the local shops, beaten up on numerous occasions. His dog is murdered, he has stones thrown through his windows and all of his childhood friends turn against him. The way one simple lie from a child can bring an innocent man’s life crashing down around him is so shocking and yet so scarily plausible.
Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic in the role, playing the accused teacher quite frustratingly restrained and understanding. Only on a couple of occasions does he let his anger and frustration show; mostly Lucas is filled with shock and melancholy at the situation he has found himself in. At some points the film lacks plausibility such as in the only very brief involvement of lawyers, police and authorities in the matter, the fact that the child is believed almost straight away without any real psychological tests or interviews or the often annoying understanding and temperament of Lucas who seems not to feel anger or hate towards his accusers or the little girl who caused the whole mess. Two thirds of the way through Lucas is acquitted, though the community doesn’t accept this. They continue to hunt and hound him, showing that some accusations, no matter how false or ridiculous, no matter how good the persons reputation or standing in the community, will still cause irrational reactions in perfectly sane and normal people. Vinterberg warns us that rumour and hearsay can be an evil and destructive force.
The film operates in an odd way as we sympathise with Lucas and lambast the community that turns against him, even feeling animosity towards the little girl who does try on numerous occasions to take back her words only to have them twisted by those around her. The fear and anger towards Lucas is understandable but as we are the only ones who know the truth some scenes and confrontations I watched with gritted teeth, clenched fists, almost shaking with anger and frustration. The ending almost feels like a cop out and really ruins the pace and flow of the film and left me a little disappointed. However, the very last scene regains the film’s edge a little, making us question peoples actions and true natures.
The Hunt is not a film everyone will enjoy but that’s hardly the point. I defy anyone to come away from this without at least feeling something and, after all, isn’t that the point of cinema?