Worthwhile Danish drama exploring the witch hunt mentality around paedophilia
Danish writer-director Thomas Vinterberg’s self-styled ‘old tale in modern clothes’ stars Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen in a boldly cast-against-type role, as a softly-spoken kindergarten teacher Lucas, who is falsely accused one winter of sexually abusing children in his care. When the four-year-old daughter Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) of his best friend and hunting buddy Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) alleges that he has molested her, Lucas is instantly suspended from the nursery, without even being informed of the charges. Soon the tight-knit rural community is gripped by a collective desire for vengeance towards the supposed paedophile.
Whereas Vinterberg’s break-out Dogme film Festen explored the Freudian concept of the return of the repressed, in the form of a patriarch’s history of child abuse finally coming to light, the powerfully acted The Hunt concerns itself with how an innocent individual is caught up in a modern-day witch-hunt, based solely on the false memories of a child.
Shooting in warm russet and orange tones, the film-maker establishes a vivid sense of place, and side-steps several generic clichés: we never see a trial for example, nor do we doubt Lucas’s complete innocence. Yet in heading into Straw Dogs territory, Vinterberg is not averse to employing some familiar tropes: there’s no question that Lucas’s beloved dog will become the target of the mob, nor that the mild-mannered protagonist will ultimately be forced to resort to violence. Female characters, not least Lucas’s female boss Grethe and his new girlfriend Nadja, conveniently disappear from the story, and Theo’s dilemma - how would you respond if it was alleged that your best friend had abused your child? - could have been investigated much more deeply.
Ultimately The Hunt demonstrates how quickly the veneer of ‘civilization’ can be stripped away, and equally how swiftly ‘normality’ can be restored, although to the film’s credit, the coda adds a layer of ambiguity to proceedings.
Selected release from Fri 30 Nov.