THE HUNT Home Video Review

There is an interesting psychology surrounding films where we are either repulsed or made angry while watching them yet still resonate as a fine cinematic experience or something we admire for its craft and importance. This is nothing new in a world where disturbing true stories are brought to the screen every winter in hopes of Awards contention, but when they are done extremely well it brings up how striking the line is between how this can be classified as entertainment yet we feel nothing but irritated and somewhat put off by the content of the tale we just witnessed. Such is the case with The Hunt, a Danish film from director Thomas Vinterberg that focuses on the perception of one man by people who thought they knew and trusted him, but are inclined to think differently based on things that come to light under a misguided investigation. It is a gut wrenching set of circumstances that set-up the fateful lie in which the story revolves around and if re-told as anything more than pure fact would indeed sound like it was being made up. The crutch that the film leans on though is that this man, our protagonist and who the film wisely sets up as trustworthy and completely innocent from the beginning in our all-knowing perspective is that he is by all accounts a well-respected and well-liked piece of this small communal fabric. The small town in which the tale takes place is itself a picturesque village with large houses and scenery to rest your eyes on for days with a strong, core companionship between the citizens that relays to each of them depending on one another to continue going about their daily lives in such peace. So, when an unexpected scandal hits the quiet town and it comes from within what was presumed a tightly woven fabric things begin to unravel quicker and uglier than any of these people would have likely ever imagined. It is easy for us to see the truth of the situation, but almost just as easy is to see how things become so misconstrued and even further, just how easy it would be to assume what the majority believes as those outside the situation no doubt do. The way in which it resonates throughout and loses more of the critical detail as it does so; we likely see it happen everyday, especially in our gossip-fueled society, but The Hunt brings to the forefront the reality of just how far misplaced power can be taken when perception is mistaken for unquestionable emotions.

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) embraces his son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom).
We are introduced to Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) as he has recently lost his teaching job after the local school shut down. He has found replacement work at a local daycare that is slightly out of his wheelhouse, but in which he seems to find a lot of joy. He gets to be a part of the lives of the children of his friends whom he hangs out with at night as he no longer has a wife or son of his own at home. His son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm), seems to still want to be a part of his life and cares about his father deeply, but his mother and Lucas' ex-wife seems keen on keeping both her and their son away from him. It is in these small, early details that we come to see why the perception of Lucas that comes to be might better be understood or how spectators can more easily draw conclusions. It all begins with misplaced affection that Lucas rightly rejects from the beginning, but in a moment of anger and hate a kindergartner named Klara, a very demanding presence portrayed with such genuine innocence by Annika Wedderkopp, tells her teacher something she only knows from hearing and seeing what her older brother and his friends jokingly shoved in her face. It is a split second of a bad decision on the part of Klara's older brother that spirals into the imagination of this young girl as to what love and intimacy might mean to a mind that has never encountered such things and how putting one's self out there and being scorned, even at a young age, will produce a wrath that Lucas is more or less blindsided by due to the poor ways in which the head kindergarten teacher, Grethe (Susse Wold) goes about handling it. In short, Klara tells her teacher she hates Lucas for exposing himself to her. The origin of the misplaced affection is not Klara's brothers fault though, but more her parents who argue all the time and allow Lucas to walk Klara to and from school. Klara likes to walk Lucas' dog and Lucas doesn't mind seeing as he has his own paternal instincts about Klara given her father, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) is his best friend. This of course complicates things once Grethe has informed Theo and his wife of the accusations Klara has made and while she only advises Lucas that the accusations have been made after informing the parents she does not tell him who made them or exactly what they are before dismissing him from work for a few days. Grethe then invites a child psychologist who deems it wise to involve the authorities and thus leads to the rest of the parents knowing and more outlandish accusations being made.

Probably the most interesting part of the film though is not how it avoids falling into the usual trappings of a he said/she said investigative story, but how much of it really falls on the performance of Mikkelsen. Yes, there are moments where the script allows the film to play with the point of view from those looking down on Lucas and the strong conflict with which Theo consistently suffers, but more than anything we are made to watch as this morally upstanding man is put through the ringer by everyone he believed he was close to and how he is meant to handle these situations. It is frustrating, don't get me wrong, but the performance of Mikkelsen is what gives the film its power. Since first seeing the actor in 2006's Casino Royale I have always been intimidated by the icy look of the actors features and so to see him settle so effortlessly into this middle of the road life with his hair combed over and his glasses protruding from his distinct face makes for an odd contradiction to the typical menace that is usually infused into his characters. He understands what Lucas is going through here though, he understands the underlying essence of what his life has turned into because of the lie and misinterpretation of one child. Even he begins to feel guilt it seems, but he knows he cannot allow those outside his walls to see him crumble so instead he approaches each situation as if he is as baffled by the news and accusations as anyone else. The film builds up the aforementioned small details by inherently equipping Lucas with several facts that might not look so good were the option of being a child molester to be brought up against you. The fact he lives all alone by himself in a big house, how it's slightly odd a forty year-old man might be working in a kindergarten and naturally, the relationship with which he has already formed with Klara prior to her making the accusations against him. Throughout all of this, we never doubt Lucas and we trust the movie will not pull one over on us by not having left us out on any critical pieces of information that might skew our view. It doesn't. The film instead goes about deciphering how something so instinctively human, how something so right in the minds of the well-meaning people we find here can be so wrong and blinded by the powerful words of a child. It is easy to understand everyone's actions here and that makes it all a little harder to swallow.

Mads Mikkelsin in The Hunt.
As the film began to progress and I could see how the outline may fall I wondered how Vinterberg and his co-writer Tobias Lindholm might find a satisfactory conclusion to their story given the fact it is not a conflict that can be so easily or quickly resolved, but surprisingly and not so surprisingly we get a slightly ambiguous final scene that is only satisfactory due to the one that proceeds it in which the whole of Mikkelsen's performance comes to a head and crashes with that of Larsen's. It is a climax to a film that is purely emotional and nothing in regards to what you might think of when summarizing that part of a story in the typical fashion. While in the traditional sense of the climax being the part of the story where the conflict is resolved this may not best apply, but we are at least given a rather strong hint of how Lucas may be allowed to play out the remainder of his life given the set of circumstances he was forced to face and that would ultimately alter whatever previous path he might have wondered. All in all, this makes The Hunt a very brutal emotional drama that is hard to take, but even more so it is eye opening in the regard that we only see the truth of the situation because we know for a fact Lucas didn't do what he is accused of, but cursed with even a minuscule amount of less knowledge about the situation and the fact we would likely be inclined to believe the same way the towns people do is frightening. It is in the desperation of Lucas that we come to see the truth be exposed to those closest to him and how they handle the guilt of their actions reflects the misguided guilt they almost coaxed Lucas into feeling himself. It is an affecting film that doesn't drown itself in its own seriousness, but is able to display a range that takes its audience to lowest of lows and makes us feel exactly as Lucas does. He fears his accusers and what it could mean for his family and his life as much as they fear him and the sickness they believe he is capable. Through it all Mikkelsen delivers the intensity and fragility you might expect from an average man being thrust into despicable circumstances and he, along with the rest of the film, come out with a piece of cinema that is both haunting, disturbing, but most of all enlightening to the witch hunt nature of society when even the most decent of people are given the idea they need to remedy a barbarity.