The Hunt

The Hunt

***1/2

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

The Hunt's Danish director, Thomas Vinterberg, is one of the founding members of the Dogme movement of which enfant terrible Lars Von Trier is also a member. His film shares certain content and stylistic traits with other films from that loosely defined and contradictory movement and his own previous works. It is shot in a cold, austere style, the beautiful yet somehow bleak landscape populated with blackly funny, grotesque characters hiding behind a fastidious middle class veneer of politeness and civility, even as their petty machinations destroy those around them. Vinterberg has peeked under the surface of Danish society before with harsh dramas such as his acclaimed Festen, and here he bases his exploration of what viciousness lurks under the facade of a country with some of the most enviable living standards in Europe around an 'it could happen to you' wrong-man scenario. In The Hunt, a rural schoolteacher working in a kindergarten faces the nightmare that all who work in education must secretly dread - false accusations of sexual assault on a pre-teen pupil.

Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (perhaps best known to UK audiences for his role as the villain in Casino Royale, though his filmography goes far beyond that) is Lucas, a schoolteacher working in a picturesque, close-knit, rural Danish community kindergarten. It is quickly established that Lucas is beloved by the children and trusted by all the adults in town. Approaching the school in an early scene, Lucas is soon mobbed by the adoring children, who clamber all over him, though we have a niggling feeling that this physical intimacy might be a double edged sword. Likewise his neighbour and best friend Theo trusts Lucas to retrieve and walk home with his frequently truanting daughter Klara, unmonitored. Vinterberg shows us all this, presumably trusting that we the audience sense how fragile the bucolic image of rural bliss and community spirit is - a community spirit symbolised by the local deer hunt gatherings in the starkly beautiful woods on the outskirts of town. In fact the mood is tense and unsettling from the start, and only magnified by such pleasant surroundings. Clearly the “hunt” is a laden term.

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Before long, Lucas is indeed hunted. A misguided gesture of affection from one of his pupils in kindergarten during playtime leads to Lucas issuing a gentle rebuke, which in turn provokes a childishly spiteful and unfounded accusation of sexual abuse. The school authorities question the child, whose confused and contradictory recital of events is dismissed as stemming from fear and embarrassment, and Lucas is soon suspended and the victim of escalating hostility from the parents and other members of the community. To his horror, not only do former friends and allies turn against him, but the lie seems to spread like a virus. Soon all the children under his care are 'remembering' suffering abuse at his hands. The system seems to offer no help to Lucas, no right of redress or method of keeping his name anonymous until he can have a fair hearing. Instead he is physically and mentally chipped away at until he is left facing the frightening prospect of real mob violence, which could come at any time, from any angle, even if his name should be legally cleared.

Precise and controlled, Vinterberg's film is not really a forensic study of the education system or a legal drama. There are few details given about the legal and educational processes in Denmark that presumably kick in when a child accuses a teacher of such an offence, and the narrative skips over large chunks of time in Lucas's struggle to clear his name anyway. What Vinterberg is more interested in is depicting how a community can so easily implode and savage one of its own. His main tools to do this are the sharp, bold cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen that helps create tension with its almost too-pretty colour pallette and lighting and shots of lush forests, and an intense performance from Mads Mikkelsen, who is an actor rarely bettered when it comes to playing men in savage situations.

The script is minimal and the plot doesn't avoid some more conventional beats (the killing of the falsely accused main character's dog being one cliched moment), and odd plausibility issues come up (Lucas seems strangely unwilling to forthrightly defend himself when first accused, though this could simply be due to his sense that this will all blow over). Nevertheless the mood of growing terror is palpably brought across in this effective drama, and there are some punchy scenes where the sudden physical proximity of one character to another provokes moments of razor sharp tension. This feels like an angry, sour film determined to pick under the scabs, but it is a well put together one.

Reviewed on: 15 Oct 2012
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A much loved teacher's world is shattered when a pupil accuses him of sexual molestation.
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Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Writer: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp

Year: 2012

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Denmark


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