The Hunt (2012), directed by Thomas Vinterberg, approaches some familiar themes with a very unique approach and focus. Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) works at a kindergarten, where he has a great rapport with the kids he looks after. He’s also a single dad hoping to gain custody of his only son. When a young girl at the kindergarten, the daughter of his best friend, makes a worrying allegation about him to one of his co-workers, that allegation is investigated in an inflammatory and unjust way. The film follows Lucas as he deals with this allegation, and with the people who live in his small town who treat him with increasing contempt.
The Hunt is a compelling take on the concept of mass hysteria and the modern-day witch hunt, and it confronts these themes and ideas without hyperbole or hysteria itself. Its portrayal of someone wrongfully accused of such a heinous crime might make you feel upset or angry. It certainly made me feel very frustrated – but I would say that’s one of the strengths of the film. It evokes strong emotions, and the fact that the audience is on Lucas’ side from the very beginning is a testament to this film’s amazing storytelling and character development. We know that Lucas is innocent, and the way that the town seems content to jump on the bandwagon and accuse him of sexually assaulting a young girl without a proper investigation will make you hate every one of them.
The acting in this film is superb. Mads Mikkelsen is nothing short of amazing in his portrayal of Lucas, and his subtlety is so commendable. It would be easy, in a film like this, for the rage of his character to be interpreted an an external way; to shout, and deny vehemently any accusation. But the restraint in his performance is kind of genius, and shows a point of difference in the way someone might react to something so horrible. Some people turn inward when confronted with information they want to reject, and this is one of the character traits on display here. When Lucas first learns of the allegation made against him, Mikkelsen seems to use all of the tiny muscles in his face to show both shock and a huge internal struggle. All throughout the film, his performance is top notch. He’s a well-deserved winner of the Best Actor award at Cannes.
Attention must also be paid to the young members of the cast. Annika Wedderkopp plays Klara, the girl who lies about Lucas. She is an extraordinary young talent and paradoxically displays a lot of maturity, even though she’s clearly kindergarten-age. In her initial accusation against Lucas, her small voice shows so much restrained anger and rejection. When she realises that she’s done something wrong, her performance is heartbreaking. Lucas’ son Marcus is also very competently played by Lasse Fogelstrøm. Marcus’ passionate defense of his father is almost a relief to watch after Lucas’ continual degradation in the eyes of the town. Marcus almost represents the voice of the audience, and does so in an eminently watchable way.
The cinematographer, Charlotte Bruus Christensen, is someone I will be paying attention to in future. Each shot in this film was set up impeccably. The change in tone from pre-accusation to post-accusation is balanced by amazing shotmaking and use of colour and light, in addition to the aforementioned spectacular acting skills. It just seems like everything matches everything else in this film, if that even makes sense. The cinematography also shows off a lot of the beautiful nature of the small town in which Lucas lives, seemingly in order to contrast it with the monstrosity of the humans who live there. In alignment with the performances, the use of music is also very subtle and further sets the tone of the film in a perfect way.
What I really appreciated about this film was the fact that it quite unflinchingly focuses on an issue that we don’t often see in the cinema. I can think of a number of films about mislaid accusations and injustice, but I can’t think of another similarly-themed film whose story is constructed in as sensitive and as unique a way as The Hunt. I don’t know if there are too many opportunities to display the kind of bravery shown in this film; particularly with reference to films that focus on accusations of sexual assault of children. With such a confronting subject matter, watching this one feels like a very unique experience. It’s a story that seems familiar, but is portrayed in a completely new way.
The Hunt is one of those films that makes you yell at the screen. Even to its final moments, this amazing film will have you captivated, and your mind will stay with the film long after the credits have finished rolling. With its stellar performances, unique approach to its story, and beautiful cinematography and music, this is a film you cannot miss if you’re a fan of excellent dramatic cinema. I’m tipping this one to win Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year.
Watch the trailer here.
Watch the film at Amazon!