The Hunt

****

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Guilty until proven innocent.

The Hunt

The H-Bomb:  Danish school teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is in the middle of putting his life back together after a divorce, working in a kindergarten and trying to win full custody of his son.  He is well liked in his small community, and is very popular with the children he teaches.  All of that changes, however, when he is accused by one of his young students of inappropriately exposing himself.  The student, it turns out, is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of Lucas’s best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen).  Assuming that little Klara has no reason to make any of this up, the school officials suspend Lucas while the authorities investigate.

Unfortunately for Lucas, the repercussions do not end there, as rumors of his alleged misdeeds spread throughout town.  Before he knows it, he’s been ostracized from most of his friends, he’s lost all visitation rights with his son, and other children at the kindergarten are starting to come forward with allegations of their own.  What’s most distressing to Lucas, is that he knows he’s innocent, but he can’t get anyone, even people he’s known his entire life, to listen.  And even if he is one day exonerated, there’s still the question of whether or not his reputation will ever recover.

Co-written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, and nominated for a 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, The Hunt is one hell of a disturbing movie.  One of the most disturbing I’ve seen in recent memory.  I have about as much sympathy for a child molester as I would for a Nazi war criminal; however, I do have to wonder, what if someone is falsely accused of such a heinous crime?  We can hope that justice will prevail and they will be cleared, but what about what happens to them in the meantime?  To their name, their reputation, their social and professional lives?

It’s the kind of crime in which, figuratively, one is guilty until proven innocent, and just the accusation alone, no matter how baseless, is enough to completely ruin a person.  To give an example from my own life, years back I was working on the crew of an independent feature, and the cinematographer was a fairly experienced guy who I got along with quite well.  One day, the director discovered something about the guy’s background: that he was on the sex offender registry for child pornography charges.  My impression of him changed in an instant.  As it happened, the guy was guilty, and the rest of the cast and crew rightly wanted nothing more to do with him.  But even if he turned out to be innocent, I still never would have looked at him in the same light again.

That is what The Hunt conveys, in low key but effective fashion, that the accusation alone can be irreversibly damning.  Here, Lucas’  good name is tarnished by something completely beyond his control.  By taking a naturalistic, almost documentary-like approach, the film simply shows him trying to cope with this waking nightmare, while never hitting a false note.  With the townsfolk looking at him with contempt and distrust, people vandalizing his home, and, predictably, someone doing something horrible to his beloved dog (and that was very predictable), we are made to feel his pain, his confusion, and his growing sense of frustration.

We know Lucas is innocent.  That he’s a good, honest man who is entirely undeserving of this persecution. That is why The Hunt is so troubling.  Downright fucking scary, when one stops to think about it.  Not simply because the events depicted are entirely believable, but because they could happen literally to anyone.  I could be Lucas, you could be Lucas, anyone could be Lucas, and things could play out exactly as they do here, with people, even those closest to you, assuming the absolute worst.  That’s what the film drives home, that it is all so frighteningly plausible.

The movie’s believability is aided in so small way by Mikkelsen’s pitch perfect lead performance.  Taking a break from playing larger-than-life villains in things like Casino Royale and TV’s Hannibal, Mikkelsen is surprisingly subtle and down to earth as Lucas.  He portrays Lucas with warmth and a sense of dignity, someone whose patience is constantly being tested, and whose sanity is ultimately pushed to the edge.  Mikkelsen’s work here is tremendously layered, and authentic in every way.  This is by far the best performance I’ve ever seen from him.

As powerful as Mikkelsen and the story itself are, I can’t help but wonder if The Hunt would have benefited from being more ambiguous.  What if, instead of making it clear that Lucas is innocent, it was less certain, if we the audience weren’t entirely sure if he was guilty or not.  Yes, it might have changed the nature and the meaning of the film, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have been more effective, at least in a mind fuck kind of way, if we simply didn’t know for sure.

That stated, The Hunt, as it is, is still one positively chilling motion picture.  It’s most definitely European in its mood and pacing, and it is subtitled, but don’t let that scare you off, as it is a film very worthy of your time.  It’s a provocative, realistic look at how a single little lie can destroy a life, and it is absolutely compelling, all the way up to it’s very troubling final scene.

 

 


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