Co-writer/director Thomas Vinterberg has created a chilling morality tale in his latest “The Hunt” starring Mads Mikkelsen (“A Royal Affair,” NBC’s “Hannibal”). Winning the Best Actor award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Mikkelsen plays a kindergarten schoolteacher, Lucas, who is beloved by his young students and his colleagues, and equally shares lifelong friendships with many of the villagers. But on a fateful day, a lie is told and his relationships and life are shattered.
Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm (writer/director of “A Hijacking”) have crafted a startling present day horror story where a child’s lie reverberates throughout the village with both children and adults. The accusation of improper conduct with a young Klara (an angelic Annika Wedderkopp) spreads like wildfire amongst the town. Soon an unbelieving Lucas faces mental and physical abuse from the rabid townsfolk.
Will the quiet and disbelieving Lucas ever be able to reverse public opinion once they’ve set their minds? Can a mass misconception ever be forgotten?
These are the questions Vinterberg lays out in his powerfully haunting film. Vinterberg, along with Lars von Trier co-founded Dogme 95, the Danish film movement, which championed realism in storytelling and themes as opposed to big budgeted, special effects movies. With “The Hunt,” Vinterberg creates a thoughtful and intriguing companion piece to his Dogme 95 indie game-changer, “The Celebration” (“Festen”).
Mikkelsen is superb as the ostracized teacher, Lucas, trying to make sense of the awful allegations surrounding him, all the while fighting for custody of his teen son through a difficult divorce. Equally impressive is Vinterberg’s direction of his talented ensemble. There are no evil characters here. It’s not a stretch for viewers to understand just how quickly friends become the accusers and jump to conclusions regarding Lucas.
The concept of “innocent until proven guilty” has lost face in a world where we are all so quick to pass judgment. Through technological advances we gather information in short bursts and believe much of what we hear and read whether substantiated or not.
After “The Celebration,” Vinterberg explains in the film’s production notes, that a neighbor who was also a child psychiatrist showed up at Vinterberg’s door with documents that talked about children, their repressed memories, and the doctor’s own personal theory that “thought is a virus.” Vinterberg put the files aside and chose not to read.
Ten years later he needed a psychologist and called on the doctor. Before meeting, he explains that he read the documents and was “… shocked. Spellbound. And I felt that here was a story that needed to be told. A story of a modern-day witch-hunt. ‘The Hunt’ is the result of this reading.”
Ironically, this ten-year time passage created a film that is even more timely today. Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” with its important themes, fine acting, and de-saturated, yet realistic palette, is a film worth ‘hunting’ down.
“The Hunt” is 111 minutes, Rated R, and opens in Los Angeles and New York July 12.
For other film reviews by Lori Huck, check out:
‘A Royal Affair’ Film Review: Denmark’s Enlightened Love Triangle
‘Llyn Foulkes One Man Band’: Los Angeles Film Festival