The Hunt is certainly a conversation stopper, tell anyone you’re going to go see The Hunt and they’re likely to ask what it’s about. The only true answer is that it’s about a man who gets accused of of molesting a little girl. Conversation. Stopped. After the brief pause and the struggle for a reply, the person who just asked what the film was about will give you a look. It’s in this look that you know the person has missed the key word ‘accused’ and is now judging you fro going to watch a film about pedophilia. Which is brilliant, because it sums up the very attitudes that Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt seeks to expose. And it’s also not what the film is about.
The Hunt focusses on Lucus (Mads Mikkelsen) a recently divorced teacher whose had to take a job at the local kindy after the school he was teaching at closed down. Lucas is a popular and well liked member of the small community and regularly socialises with the guys around town. He loves his job, loves the kids and is basically the nicest guy you could ever meet.
However, Lucas’ best friend’s neglected daughter Klara, who attends the kindy, gets a bit of a crush an Lucas, and when she innocently kisses Lucas on the lips, Lucas has to gently let her know that the behaviour is unacceptable. Klara unfortunately takes this as rejection and without realising the seriousness of what’s she’s doing, accuses Lucas of sexual abuse, using descriptions picked up from seeing porn on her brothers iPad.
Kindergarten head Grethe obviously believes Klara and sets into motion a series of events that not only distorts what Klara said, but plants seeds of suggestion in Klara’s head, as well as just about everyone else in the community.
Lucas is kept out in the cold, never being told what he has done, but soon discovering the true horror of what he has been accused of as the pack mentality sets in and the community closes it’s self off from him.
Vinterberg’s deft hand manages to enable us to almost live the horror of Lucas’ life as it spirals out of control and Mads Mikkelsen plays his role with compassion and breaths scarily real life into his characters tourtured soul.
Even though his friends turn away from him, some rather violently, we save our hatred towards kindergarten head Grethe’s incompetent handling of the situation, turning what could have been an easily resolved case into a witch hunt with a seemingly personal vendetta that makes you wonder if something didn’t happen to her character as a child.
Whilst the subject matter may be a conversation stopper, the film wisely focusses on the characters, and how life for the adults in the community changes so drastically. This isn’t a tale about Klara, but a story about innocence, character and reputation lost, in the worst possible way. It’s a harrowing and haunting experience that will stay with you for a very long time after. If you only see one film at the New Zealand Film Festival this year, make sure it’s The Hunt.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Read