Title: The Hunt
Director(s): Thomas Vinterberg
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Teachers have such thankless jobs. They have to put up with so much from their students, and they can never do anything that will offend anyone. Even punishing a student can result in their parents demanding their head on a stake. The Hunt (or Jagten, its original title) however, shows us the one thing a teacher never wants to encounter, and how it can absolutely ruin their lives. It’s a horrifying depiction of something that could easily happen in society, and unlike Lore where it was about letting go of past convictions, The Hunt is a movie that shows what happens when an accusation can never be forgotten. Aided by Mads Mikkelsen’s Cannes winning performance for Best Actor, this film displays a reality that is achieved by some absurd moments, but otherwise hauntingly realized by director Thomas Vinterberg.
The premise is disturbing enough because you already know where the film is going to go from that alone. Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a divorced kindergarten teacher, who one day is accused by one of his students of having touched her. Of course, that never happened but it doesn’t stop the entire community from believing the 5 year-old’s story. After being shown a naked photo of a man by her teenage brother (via his iPad, hence the title of this review), Klara gets mad at Lucas and then off-handedly tells the principal of the school that she saw his genitals. What ensues is some of the most anger-inducing sequences I’ve seen in a long time. I mentioned that the film has some absurd moments that just help make everything spiral out of control faster. One of those moments is an interview between one person and Klara, whereby they give guided questions that coax answers out of Klara in order for her to admit that she was violated by Lucas. It’s infuriating, but it’s the moments that are extremely realistic that are even more enraging. The entire community turn their backs on Lucas, firmly believing the story of a 5 year-old, with Theo, her father and best friend of Lucas, even asking why she would lie now when she has never done so before. She also says she made up the story at one point, but everyone just plays that off as her not being able to remember properly because of the traumatic experience.
Such absurd pushes in the plot are noticeable and will also annoy many, but all are sold by the incredible acting in this picture. The standout though is most definitely Mikkelsen who gives a subtle, yet agitated performance. I’ve always been a massive fan of Mikkelsen, and I still believe his performance in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher II: With Blood on my Hands is his best yet (and also one of the best films I’ve seen), but this is just another role to add to the pile. An actor best known to American audiences as the villain in Casino Royale, Mikkelsen plays a man whose world is turned upside down by one off-handed comment with such finesse, and it all just feels natural for him. The big emotional beats in The Hunt play out with complete fluidity, and though there are some moments that are obviously contrived to rile up the audience, it’s all sold by Mikkelsen’s stunning performance. It’s nice to see him not play a villain (though in some eyes he is in this film) for which he seems to be typecast, at least in American films because of his Scandinavian facial features.
What is going to stick with you after viewing The Hunt, is not only the incredible acting, but the lasting impression it will have on you. There is no happy ending in this film, because a happy ending just wouldn’t make sense in contemporary society. That’s why The Hunt works so well; it doesn’t leave you with any misconceptions. It tells you the story of a man wrongly accused of sexual assault, and then how a community tries to deal with him and ultimately how they feel about him regardless of whether he’s innocent or not. In an epilogue that occurs in the final minutes of the film, we see just how hard it is for others to let go of such a severe conviction. If the film ended happily there would have to be a lot of admission of being wrong, and instead this ending only requires the re-entry of Lucas back into the community, but not for people to retract their prior accusations. This plays on the notion that no one likes to be wrong, and in fact, some are so stubborn about it that they will continue believing in something even if it’s blatantly false.
With such a strong theme and message, bundled together into an impressive feature film with astounding acting from Mads Mikkelsen, it is easy to see why this film got the attention it did at Cannes. It isn’t Denmark’s pick for the Foreign Film nomination (that goes to A Royal Affair, another VIFF film I saw which also stars Mikkelsen) but that just goes to show that Denmark has an incredible film presence and is having a great year in 2012. This is by far one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and though it enters the realm of ridiculousness at points and isn’t the most extravagant looking film, it’s a great statement on society and how hard it is to shake a label once it’s been given. The Hunt is truly haunting in its depictions, and though it isn’t going to get much more praise this year, it’s definitely one to look out for when it undoubtedly gets a release on a VOD service or home video.
Screening courtesy of the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival