"“Cinema at its very best, as it takes you on an emotional journey that you simply can't tear yourself away from...”"
It's fair to say that innovative Danish director Thomas Vinterberg has never fully lived up to potential, struggling to match the brilliance of his 1998 masterpiece Festen. But now the man behind the avant-garde filmmaking movement Dogme 95 has finally made a picture that stands up to the renowned title, and dare I say it, he may even have bettered it.
We follow the tragic tale of nursery school teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), who is falsely accused of sexually abusing young pupil Klara (Annika Wedderkopp). Although being best friends with her father Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) and sharing a close bond with the student, Lucas is accused when Klara gets emotionally confused when a present she makes for Lucas is rejected, and then out of embarrassment, she invents a story of him abusing her and tells it to the headteacher.
This unintentionally harmful lie then proceeds to spiral dangerously out of control, as the headteacher gets the police involved and sacks Lucas from his position at the school. Despite adamantly professing his innocence, the entire neighbourhood turns on the beleaguered father, who had just begun turning his life around, getting a new girlfriend and being reconnected with his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom). Whilst no-one believes Lucas – including Theo – his life is in ruins, yet it's that very same life that is at constant threat due to such untowardly accusations.
The Hunt is simply gripping cinema, as you can't tear your eyes away from the screen for one second, in what is an emotional and enticing study of society and the human race. This is not in any way an ambiguous picture, there is no question mark over whether Lucas is innocent or guilty, it's simply a tale of how a single lie can be wrongly taken as gospel and how it can then escalate into complete madness. You even get the impression that many of those accusing Lucas are perversely enjoying the situation, getting a cheap thrill off taking a moral high ground.
Much credit must go by way of Vinterberg for creating a picture so tense and compelling. The film sets itself up brilliantly as things appear to finally be going well for Lucas as he starts dating colleague Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) and his young son is soon to live with him at long last. He can even be caught skipping down the street at one point – yet by making it all so cheery only maximises the devastation caused when it all comes crashing down on him. In that respect The Hunt bears similarities to the work of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, as you can pinpoint the exact moment when the film turns and the entire atmosphere becomes dark, and almost sinister.
However unlike Farhadi, Vinterberg cleverly manages to implement comedy in the most tense of circumstances. Never mind the jovial start, there is the occasional one-liner in the latter stages that comes as huge comfort to the taut audience, imperative as it provides a much needed light-relief, as there is one particular moment that sparks an incredible rapturous yet nervous and uneasy laughter from the audience, as Vinterberg plays with your senses and emotional vulnerability.
Meanwhile Mikkelsen turns in a tour-de-force as our protagonist, with an absolutely terrific portrayal of a man who's life is rapidly crumbling from beneath his feet, and it's a performance most certainly deserving of his Best Actor accolade at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. The surrounding cast are also fantastic, especially for both Wedderkopp and Fogelstrom who turn in brilliantly courageous and promising performances as the two younger members of the cast, especially the former – playing just a six year old girl.
The Hunt is cinema at its very best, as it takes you on an emotional journey that you simply can't tear yourself away from. It's an idea that has been done before, granted, but one must question whether it has been as well as this. Coming out in the UK at the beginning of the festive season and set over a cold, Danish Christmas – this tragically ironic “Christmas movie” certainly isn't one for all the family – and in no way a feature that will bring you much festive cheer this winter.