Review: The Hunt (2013)

I can hardly think of a movie with more frustrating subject matter than The Hunt. At one point I was so frustrated, I found myself clenching my fists so hard my nails were burrowing into my palm. Now don’t get me wrong. The film is not bad — actually quite the opposite. It’s frustrating because the actions of so many characters in the film are baffling and wrong and downright despicable. My mom often likes to yell out at characters in movies for doing stuff she disagrees with. This is one of the first times in a cinema where I’ve felt like doing the same.

Director Thomas Vinterberg is best known for his digital video landmark The Celebration, but I found The Hunt to explore similar ground as Dogville from his Dogme 95 compatriot Lars Von Trier. Both films dissect human psychology and show how ordinary people can easily be made to exhibit disgusting behaviour when acting as a group. For Vinterberg, groupthink and the perverse encouragement of self-righteousness can lead people to do unspeakably awful things.

The Hunt focuses on the false accusations one little girl aims at her kindergarten teacher. Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) is a curious little girl, with an abnormal fixation on her father’s best friend, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), who is also one of her assistant Kindergarten teachers. After Lucas declines a heart that Klara offers him as a symbol of her affection, Klara does something unspeakable. She tells her teacher that Lucas sexually abused her, leading Lucas to be fired from his job, his relationship with his friends to be ruined, and his entire town to turn against him, believing him a monster and making his life a living hell.

The Hunt is never ambiguous about the truth behind Klara’s accusations. Lucas is innocent. We know it. Lucas knows it. Klara knows it. But Lucas and Klara cannot do anything about dealing with the fallout once the accusation is out in the world. The spiteful nature of the townsfolk, the natural inclination to believe the worst in people and demonize people accused of unspeakable wrongdoing, becomes an unstoppable train. As the chilling epilogue shows, set one year later, even after the illusion of normalcy has returned to Lucas’s world, his life will never be the same. He will always be in danger. He will always be a villain. The truth no longer matters. The emotional anger of the townsfolk is truth enough to justify the evil they inflict upon Lucas.

Aside from a look at persecution and the destructive nature of lies, The Hunt is also a curious exploration of the relationship between adults and children. Most of the problems that arise in The Hunt are the result of adults not thinking of children as full human beings. They either think children are incapable of lying, or believe that children are so confused and intellectually stunted as to be incapable of understanding reality. In one scene, Klara tells her mother that what she said about Lucas was just a foolish comment, but Klara’s mother refuses to listen to her daughter, telling her that her fragile mind has a way of ignoring the ugly truth of what Lucas did to her. Klara can tell the truth all day, but the adults will never believe her. That’s what makes the situation in The Hunt so frustrating. Once the genie is out, there’s no getting it back in the bottle.

The Hunt is a powerful film, and a showcase for Mads Mikkelsen as the unfortunate teacher stuck in this Kafkaesque nightmare. It lays bare the accusatory nature of communities and humanity’s sinful need to believe the worst in people. Friendship and neighbourly affection don’t matter once the spectre of wrongdoing enters into the situation. In the minds of the townsfolk in The Hunt, no punishment is quite so delicious as just retribution.

8 out of 10

The Hunt (2013, Denmark)

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg; written by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm; starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrom, and Susse Wold.