The Hunt | reviews, news & interviews
Director Thomas Vinterberg uses small-town Denmark as a disturbing behavioural laboratory
Some say director Thomas Vinterberg has never equalled his triumph with Festen (1998), but with The Hunt it's time for everyone to think again. An assured and claustrophobic drama which ruthlessly picks apart the seemingly civilised facade of a small Danish town, it's a film that reverberates in the imagination and proves yet again what a fine actor Mads Mikkelsen is.
Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a recently divorced 40-year-old working as a kindergarten assistant following the closure of the school which previously employed him. Though he's still trying to reassemble the disordered pieces of his life, including rebuilding his relationship with his son, he seems well integrated into the community. He even partakes in macho bonding rituals with some of the local menfolk, involving deer-hunting and leaping into freezing lakes.
We see him striking up a warm, in loco parentis style relationship with one of his young charges, five-year-old Klara (an unnervingly knowing Annika Wedderkopp). She's the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), but Theo and his wife argue a lot, and little Klara looks forlorn and feels starved of parental affection.
But they say no good deed goes unpunished, and Lucas's cheerful protectiveness is given a startling twist when Klara tries to kiss him on the lips during a kindergarten game. Lucas explains to her why that wasn't the right thing to do, and lets it rest. However, Klara's childish imagination starts spinning busily, assisted by a glimpse of some pornographic pictures her older brother and his mate are looking at on a laptop. Next thing you know, she's reporting Lucas to Grethe (Susse Wold, pictured above with Wedderkopp), the tremulous old busybody who's in charge of the kindergarten, claiming he's been exposing himself.
With startling rapidity, logic, reason and common sense evaporate into the Nordic twilight. Klara never manages to repeat her story the same way twice, but the default conclusion of every adult in this rural backwater is that Lucas is a de facto Savile-esque predator. The baffling canard that "children never lie" is repeated frequently - I'd log this as a gaping credibility pothole in Vinterberg's concept, because in the cold light of day it's idiotic - but the piece develops with such deadly sleekness that you don't worry about it until later. Even when a sorrowful Klara, who seems to have a more sophisticated appreciation of the monstrousness of what's happening than any of the adults, tries to retract her story, she's patronisingly reassured that "we all know what really happened". It's as if the neighbourhood has been gripped by a zombie virus, or Straw Dogs Syndrome.
We follow Lucas through a demoralising dark night of the soul, as his reputation and integrity are crushed and battered, while his former friends treat him like a rabid dog (this is not, incidentally, a movie that will delight animal lovers). Mikkelsen (pictured left with Thomas Bo Larsen), bears it all with an agonising stoicism that has you rooting for him in clenched-fist anger. Despite limiting itself to a small and carefully defined arena, The Hunt questions the value of friendship, the meaning of religion and the quality of family relationships, and saws quite successfully through the foundations of what we like to kid ourselves counts as "civilisation". This movie could change your life in a little less than two hours.
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