Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrom
Here’s another top-quality offering at the New Zealand Film Festival. Danish film The Hunt is very different from Joss Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods, which I saw last week, but it could definitely be considered a horror film.
Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, A Royal Affair) snagged the Best Actor Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his performance as Lucas, a man falsely accused of sexually abusing a child. It’s probably every man’s nightmare, and director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) shows just how horrific the fallout can be from these allegations.
Lucas is a recently-divorced man working at a kindergarten in a small, close-knit Danish town. As the first half hour of the film shows us, he is practically a saint; his rapport with the children is sensitive, charming and completely harmless. One of the students, a young girl named Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), who is also the daughter of Lucas’ best friend, takes a particular liking to Lucas. But the confused youngster makes up a story about Lucas that infers that he may have abused Klara. When the head of the kindergarten, Grethe (Susse Wold) gets wind of this, Lucas is very quickly turned into a pariah, first by his co-workers, then the parents, then the entire community. Eventually, the allegations grow to include almost the entire class. Eventually, the police are called in and Lucas is arrested.
The adults are quick to believe Klara when she tells her story but then they refuse to listen to her when she tries to recant.
Poor Lucas is barely even told what these allegations are or who made them, but his world quickly falls apart. Throughout the crisis, he manages to retain his dignity and self-esteem even as his friends and neighbours turn against him with apparent ease.
The film seems to be a study of how groups and communities become consumed by hysteria. One can’t help but think of Peter Ellis and the Christchurch Civic Crèche abuse allegations from 1992.
What makes the film so powerful is the realism of the script and the characters…it’s easy to believe and understand almost everyone’s decisions and motivations no matter how wrong they are. Mikkelson’s performance is riveting and the young actress who plays Klara is very believable.
The film’s emotional impact goes up a notch when Lucas’ teenage son arrives on the scene. He quickly learns a lot about human nature and loyalty.
The Hunt is hard-going, emotionally wrenching at times and the attempt to tie Lucas’ tribulations with the local deer-hunting season feels a bit forced, but this is a film that stays with you long after you’ve left the cinema.