The Hunt (Jagten)
Films about child abuse are not uncommon; in the past few years, Doubt and Precious earned both critical and public acclaim. But a film about child abuse in which the accused adult is the victim is something rare indeed. Writer and director Thomas Vinterberg turns the abuse film trope on its head with The Hunt, a stunning, raw look at how lies and gossip can rip apart a small town and one innocent man's life.
The innocent man at the center of The Hunt is Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen with a performance that earned him Cannes' Best Actor award), a kindergarten teacher who forms a close bond with one student, his best friend's daughter, Klara. When Lucas rebuffs Klara's growing crush, the little girl acts out in a fit of anger, Klara tells another teacher that Lucas has sexually abused her (the film cleverly has Klara repeat pornographic expressions she overheard her teenaged brother saying). What follows is a manhunt that leaves audiences along with Lucas shaking with anger.
Unlike the aforementioned Doubt, there is never any question that Lucas is innocent. And this conceit brings with it enough emotional baggage to carry the film for its 115 minutes. As Lucas' frustration turns to despair and finally terror, so does the audience's. And yet, you can't help but sympathize with the parents and community as well. "Why would a child lie?" is one of the film's central questions, and while the audience is privy to the answer throughout, it is equally understandable why the adults are unable to comprehend this being the case. While it's horrifying to see an innocent man so ruthlessly persecuted, it's equally (maybe even more) terrible to think of an abused child going unavenged. So who wins here? The film asks the question but leaves the viewer to find his own answer, buried somewhere at the bottom of the giant pit building in his stomach.
In addition to the challenging moral questions it asks of its audience, the film is superlative in its casting. Mikkelsen leads the charge with his honest, lovable, and righteous Lucas, but not far behind is seven-year-old Annika Wedderkopp as Klara. With her endearing nose twitch and soulful eyes, she is such a natural on screen you sometimes forget you're watching a scripted film. Supporting actors Thomas Bo Larsen and Anne Louise Hassing (as Klara's parents) as well as Danish veteran actress Susse Wold (as Klara's teacher) help to further create a believable world.
But, as good as the acting is, The Hunt is more than the sum of its strong performances. It is the emotional rollercoaster from delight to dread to terror and back that the film takes you on that makes it one to remember. Or, more accurately, one that you'll find very hard to forget. Vinterberg's vision is one that haunts you just as Lucas' trials will haunt him long after you leave the theater.