A spurned little girl with a crush on her kind nursery teacher makes up a terrible lie that rapidly escalates until loyalties are tested and lives are destroyed.
Thomas (Festen) Vinterberg’s latest is a shattering piece of filmmaking that succeeds in daring the audience to ask itself whether the man at the heart of the story may actually be guilty.
This sense of dislocation, paranoia and unsettling self-doubt infuses The Hunt from the moment angelic Klara (Annika Weddekopp) makes her confession to the nursery headteacher, Grethe.The speed at which the alleged incident escalates is shocking. Soon Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen, giving arguably his best performance) is a pariah, cast out by the school, by his friends and by his community.
Combining elements of The Crucible with An Enemy of the People, The Hunt is indeed a witch-hunt in which Lucas is never once given the chance to defend himself. Grethe, utterly out of her depth and confronted with the absolute certainty of innocence (“I believe the children. They don’t lie”) spreads the news like a contagion. The mob mentality that results – and the small-town vigilantism that follows – makes for grim viewing. As for Lucas, he buries his rage and makes no attempt to contact the authorities to plead his case. It is left to his teenage son to channel his anger. The Hunt played at the Leeds International Film Festival earlier this month. It made for a memorable experience, not least because at the film’s various key moments there was silence in the auditorium as the crowd sat in rapt horror at the events unfolding on screen. That’s a rare thing these days. And The Hunt is a drama of rare power.