There are few films that so exquisitely combine the chilling tension of a thriller and the depth of a character study with cinematic beauty and a penetrating examination of society. Superbly directed by Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt is his best film in a mixed career (he directed Festen, It’s All About Love and Submarino) and will long be remembered for an extraordinary performance from Mads Mikklelsen – for which he won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a mild-mannered teacher who has recently separated from his wife and who dreadfully misses his teenaged son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom). Lucas finds work in a kindergarten where six-year old Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) forms an innocent crush on him. When he gently resists her childish advances of affection, Klara – feeling sad and rejected – accuses Lucas of indecency, after much aiding and abetting by frightened teachers and a system that assumes Klara to be a victim. Within a few days the whole community, a close-knit village in wintery Denmark, has judged Lucas guilty. Fuelled by female gossip and male animosity, Lucas becomes the subject of a disturbing witch-hunt even though he doesn’t know what he is accused of doing.
As the title suggests, it’s the anxiety, hysteria and pack mentality of the chase that dominate the narrative, Lucas seeking emotional and physical shelter in an ever decreasing circle of family and friends. Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm heighten the inherently savage world that exists just beyond the veneer of rural civilisation by framing the film with an annual hunting trip that Lucas takes with his male friends, closing the film with a reminder of the fragile nature of civilisation.
Mikkelsen portrays Lucas as a deeply sensitive man who becomes unbearably bewildered by what is happening. Such is the power of this performance that it’s almost impossible not to share the pain and anguish as Lucas tries desperately to stay connected in his small world, keep his dignity, and make sense of the wrongs done to him. It’s an unmissable performance in one of the best films of the year.