What would you do if a child erroneously accused you of abuse?
Nobody should have to answer a question like this. Unfortunately Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), the kindhearted protagonist in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, finds himself in this very situation. Following a direct accusation from a young girl named Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) in his kindergarten class, Lucas is immediately embroiled in a heated battle with the people he once called friends.
Using Mikkelsen as his vehicle, The Hunt is Vinterberg’s paralyzing examination of how one community deals with the issue of an alleged sexual predator. Vinterberg cleverly takes advantage of Mikkelsen’s real-world persona as an actor who has been typecast as a villain to sow uncertainty with the audience. Although we are fairly certain that Lucas is innocent, many of us are familiar with Mikkelsen’s past roles as Le Chiffre and Hannibal; on a subconscious level, this makes the community’s steadfast insistence that he is guilty far more believable.
And Mikkelsen sells every moment. While many know him for his more nefarious characters in film and television, here he is immediately sympathetic and relatable. He plays an everyman whose life is just beginning to yake a turn for the better. His love for his students is genuine and benign, making the events that follow that much harder to watch.
While Mikkelsen steals the show, the supporting cast makes every effort to keep up. Thomas Bo Larsen as Klara’s booming-voiced father Theo is a fantastic foil for Mikkelsen. Annika Wedderkopp makes Klara feel like a real young girl; her lines are simple, but she delivers them with earnest sincerity. Alexandra Rapaport as Nadja (Lucas’s girlfriend) and Lasse Fogelstrøm as Marcus (Lucas’s son) also offer strong supporting roles.
A warning to those with a weak stomach: The Hunt hits hard. There are no gory or sexually explicit scenes to speak of, but in some ways, those would be preferable to the horrific events that happen to and around Lucas. At one point, I was so upset that I considered walking out of the theater. Think of the downward spiral in the second half of Requiem for a Dream, and then dial it down a notch or two; that will give you a pretty good idea of what it’s like to watch The Hunt.
Manipulating the audience’s emotions, Vinterberg offers a brilliant slice of dramatic entertainment and social commentary that raises important social questions. For example, how does the legal system treat child abuse? How many people have gone to jail because investigators asked leading questions of their child witnesses? How many felons have walked free because the defense managed to convince the victims that nothing bad had happened?
CDC studies on the subject have suggested that the impact of abuse early in life can lead to a multitude of health problems. They state that victims are more susceptible to diseases, social disorders, and even early death. Moreover, many cases go unreported due to social stigma. Conversely, what happens when an innocent person is accused?
Indeed, The Hunt may have a broader impact than Vinterberg realizes. As a prospective male educator, I wondered if the film might discourage other young men from entering the field for fear of situations like this. Similarly, I wondered if adults watching the film might trust children less after seeing how Klara’s lie escalated so quickly. It is a tricky line for a director to walk, and doing so may have actual societal consequences.
Taken as a movie, however, The Hunt is simply fantastic. It is cinematographically beautiful and impeccably acted. Most importantly, it is a film that it is impossible to walk away from without having an intense emotional reaction to its story. There are films that will shake your core, and The Hunt is one of them.
Verdict: Movie Win
This article was published in its original form in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian on September 17, 2013.