THE HUNT ****
The hunter becomes the hunted.
Revisiting his successful, acclaimed 1998 film Festen (or Celebration Day) Thomas Vinterburg digs the themes of child abuse in Danish society back up.
The Hunt's Danish Director and co-writer is a household name in the film industry of his native country, being a brother to the founding of the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement which established rules for simplifying film production. Though his more recent features- both Dutch and English-speaking- have flopped, it seems that Vinterburg has finally found his feet.
After a messy divorce, Lucas (Mads Mikkelson) has settled in a small, close-knit Denmark town and is finally getting his life back together when a young girl with a vivid imagination makes an accusation against him that will change his life forever. Lucas loses his job at the town's nursery and is hunted by the angry villagers when his best friend's child Klara (Anikka Wedderkopp) claims to have been subjected to sexual abuse at his hands. Doubted by his friends and alone in his suffering, The Hunt deals with an innocent man's struggle as his whole world falls apart around him.
It is no suprise that Mikkelson picked up the award for Best Actor at Cannes this year. He delivers an astounding and gripping performance as a man who teeters on a fine line between witholding dignity and courage and verging on an emotional breakdown. He charms in his overwhelming ability to hide an incessant, lingering pain and steals the screen with his distressing reactions to the villagers torment. Though probably most recognized as the eye-weeping bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, Mikkelson has become a well-known face in the film industry outside of his birth country. The Danish actor and rising star has occupied smaller roles in box-office hits such as Clash Of The Titans and King Arthur, as well as in smaller titles like Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself.
Accusations of peadophilia, child molestation or other sexual wrongdoings- whether true or false- and its consequences is by no means an original direction within the medium, explored previously in a number of films such as The Woodsman, Mysterious Skin and Evilenko. But what Vinterburg achieves is tastefulness, avoiding the typical graphic displays and focus on the incident in question, and instead focusing on the consequential aftermath and the concerns of those characters effected. As Lucas is always positioned to be wrongly accused, we as an audience never dispute his innocence. Vinderburg even hints his genuine professionality at times, telling Klara off after she kisses him. We are able to pity Lucas and his painfully unfortunate situation as he becomes a target of abuse himself as shops refuse him service, a butcher violently confronts him, a shot is fired through his window, and his dog is killed. What we observe in the following acts is not only how Lucas becomes socially marginilized and withdrawn to the fortress of his home, but the emotional journey and pressure that the characters involved go through- particularly interestingly in Lucas' best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). What is so absorbing is how we see the primary raw reactions of anger and sadness transform as time progresses, the uncertainty of the claim emanates, and the community is forced to confront themselves.
Although delivered in an extreme and sensitive case, Vinterburg communicates an underlying message of childrens capabilities to lie, and the extent to which one little dangerous lie can cause life-changing havoc. He purposely, and successfully, avoids outright blame and irrationality by creating situations where both the emotions of the supposed victims (the villagers) and the actual victim (Lucas) can be understood. However, at the same time Vinterburg overtly challenges the cemented adult connotations between 'child', 'innocence' and 'truthfulness', and somewhat damns the parents- and authortive figures- who undoubtedly help spiral one childs uncertainties into a fermented truth to cover their backs. Even when Klara admits she said something 'foolish', her statement is disregarded as a lack of memory due to mental scarring. Arguably too, a slight dig at the accessibility of porn to underage children- from which the young female accuser is confused and misled by- is a welcome one.
The 'hunting' metaphor is an obvious one in terms of Lucas as the predator who hunts deers as a traditional village hobby, but then becomes the victim- the hunted, the deer. But more importantly it is used as a vehicle for visualising Lucas' everlasting feelings of worry and uneasiness; an ongoing reminder of becoming once again a form of prey, even after the events have passed.
VERDICT: A compelling, heart-wrenching waiting game that is gripping from multiple characters perception. A realistic, provincial examination into a harsh and dangerous situation which profuses anguish, frustration and utter heartbreak.