The Hunt (film review)
The Hunt (2013)
1 hr. 51 mins.
Starring: Mads Mikkeslen, Annika Wedderkopp, Thomas Bo Larsen, Anne Louise Hassing, Lasse Fogelstrom, Susse Wold, Lars Ranthe and Alexandria Rapaport
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
MPAA Rating: R
Critic’s rating: *** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)
The Danish psycho-social drama ‘The Hunt’ is gripping and observant about the perils of being falsely accused of a heinous crime. In this case, the alleged violation involving the molestation of a young, impressionable child. Filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (‘The Celebration’) directs an engrossing account of how one’s reputation and vital livelihood can take a serious nosedive at the hands of an out-of-control mob mentality. ‘The Hunt’ is a harrowing account of misguided speculation, mistrust and the misfortune of shattered lives at the expense of kiddie-induced disillusionment.
The sharp-minded and cohesive direction by Vinterberg not to mention the stoically forceful and angst-ridden performance by lead Mads Mikkelsen (2012’s best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival) makes ‘The Hunt ‘one of the most sobering, intensifying examinations of hostile witch hunting seen on the big screen in quite some time. Vinterberg explores the trigger-happy effects of human nature with an unassuming potency of quiet outrage. The touchy subject matter of sexual inappropriateness with children is not to be taken lightly for obvious reasons. Skillfully, ‘The Hunt’ is penetrating and intriguing enough to not trivialize or exploit such a disturbing theme.
Mikkelsen (‘A Royal Affair’, ‘Casino Royale’, TV’s ‘Hannibal’) portrays a soft-spoken and extremely likable kindergarten teacher named Lucas. Newly divorced, Lucas is trying to start his life over with his trusty canine companion, Fanny. He enjoys the animated friendships with a slew of drinking buddies. Lucas maintains a loving bond with his teen-age son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom). Importantly, he is loved and admired by the kids that he teaches and fools around with so playfully during school hours and away from the classroom.
One child in particular, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), seems to be glued to Lucas’ hip. She harbors a crush on Lucas because he seems to be the only adult that relates to her and pays her some needed attention especially when she feels slightly neglected by her bickering parents Theo and Agnes (Thomas Bo Larsen and Anne Louise Hassing). In fact, Theo happens to be Lucas’s best friend as they are as close as brothers. If her parents cannot be attentive to Klara, then being in the company of her beloved teacher Lucas will do for adequate compensation.
Finally, little Klara decides to act out her affections for Lucas at school. As he is engaged in kidding around with the other students, Klara kisses Lucas on the lips then proceeds to give him a heart-shaped item. Tactfully, Lucas tells his tiny charge that she should not kiss other people on the lips or give them intimate tokens, these gestures should only be reserved for her parents. Feeling slighted by Lucas, Klara takes his advice to her as a blatant form of rejection. Klara turns resentful and mumbles about how Lucas is all of the sudden ‘ugly’ to her and silently pouts. Naturally, Lucas does not realize how much he ticked off his best friend’s darling daughter.
Klara’s instant dissatisfaction with Lucas turns into a misleading lie when she informs the school’s headmaster Grethe (Susse Wold) that her teacher showed his private parts. The spur-of-the-moment fib was inspired by Klara’s older brother and his friends briefly showing her a dirty magazine. Hence, Klara’s disappointment with Lucas coupled with her imaginative recollection of her sibling’s prank with the X-rated photos sets off a panic in Grethe. Is Klara merely telling a colourful story or is Lucas an opportunistic child molester working around all these vulnerable youngsters? Why doubt the angelic-looking Klara…after all, kids do not lie about troubling accusations of this magnitude?
Unaware of Klara’s dubious made-up allegations against him, Lucas starts to feel liberated once again. He is excited that his son Marcus gets to stay with him after the divorce was final from the boy’s mother. Plus, Lucas found love in a pretty co-worker at the school named Nadja (Alexandria Rapaport). All is well for Lucas but he does not know what is in store for him.
When Grethe informs Lucas of the child molestation charges levied against him and accidentally exposes that it was Klara that caused this whole commotion, the man is stunned and in disbelief. Lucas does not know how to react to such damaging news that is both unimaginable and insane to him. Added to this is the shocking elements to this despicable revelation is that it is Theo’s precious Klara that has hatched such a damaging claim against his respectable character.
Soon, the whole town is in an uproar about the deception regarding Lucas’ perverse motivations. There is no attempt to fully investigate whether Lucas is actually guilty of such severe improprieties. Klara, who does not seem to look or behave as if she is traumatized by this ordeal, goes about her business and even finds time to forgive Lucas and still wants to be around him and his pet, Fanny. Klara at one point recants her sordid story about Lucas but it is too late as the firestorm has spread and everything has gotten out of hand.
Lucas tries to reason with those who find him repulsive, particularly Theo for whom he is mystified as to believe that he would touch or harm Klara in any way, shape or form. When Nadja innocently asks Lucas if he sexually abused Klara at all, he is enraged and kicks her out of his place for doubting him. Only his son Marcus and a colleague Bruun (Lars Ranthe) truly believe in Lucas’ innocence of these outrageous criminal charges. Poor Marcus suffers from the backlash in the act of defending his father’s honor.
‘The Hunt’ is a hellish private nightmare for a condemned man lost in the confines of chaos, confusion and the contamination of unfounded hysteria. As a provocateur Vinterberg’s startling exposition brings to mind a couple of well-made ditties that tapped into the vein of persecution such as ‘The Children’s Hour’ and ‘Capturing The Friedmans’ which were powerful indictments at pointing some hasty fingers. What drives ‘The Hunt’ is Mikkelsen’s pressured turn as the ostracized Lucas engaged in a battle of unwanted blame and shame. The breaking point for Mikkelsen’s Lucas is convincingly telling but he does not back down although understandably defeated and demoralized in the process.
Needless to say, ‘The Hunt’ definitely is a catastrophic character study in the realm of societal adversity.
NOTE: Focus of New York film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: