Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Alexandra Rapaport, Annika Wedderkopp, Susse Wold, Lars Ranthe, Anne Louise Hassing and Ole Dupont
Acclaimed Danish filmmaker, Thomas Vinterberg's latest is a fabulous and engaging piece of cinema that makes us go through various emotions and thoughts as the story unravels. This is bound to be Vinterberg's best film since his Dogme 95 feature, The Celebration. This time he teamed up with a very well regarded Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen and this collaboration couldn't have been more perfect. Mads Mikkelsen was awarded a well deserved best actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year for his amazing work in this film. The theme of this film is mass hysteria and how a person's life is completely wrecked as a result of misunderstandings and lies. Lucas (Mikkelsen) is a divorced man who lives in a small but well connected community. He has a son but isn't able to meet him on regular basis thanks to his strict ex-wife. Lucas works at a local kindergarten where one of his co-worker, Nadja, seems to like him very much. They even move-in together later on. The community itself is very friendly and close as I said. Lucas has many friends as well and they always spend time together drinking, hunting and just having fun. In the beginning of the movie, you see all of this and never suspect anything can go wrong here. A seemingly happy and cheerful life they are all living. You expect a level of trust and love among everyone. Not even for a second you will suspect that somebody among them can do some sort of horrible thing. Theo (Bo Larsen) is Lucas' best buddy, they know each other very well. Theo's family as well. All turns to hell when Theo's daughter Klara, who is just a child, accuses Lucas of showing his genitals. She doesn't even accuses him per say, it is just one of those random stuff children often blabber about having seen or heard something they don't really know about and then you correct them for that. A senior staff member of the nursery is with Klara when she says that. That is how things get worse when she thinks Lucas must have sexually assaulted her. Investigation starts, the unclear comments are taken as the ultimate truth and soon everyone knows about what Lucas did. The entire community, the parents and friends turns against Lucas and his life goes from peaceful to hellish.
It is said that children always speak the truth, the right thing. So it is obvious that anything Klara said would be taken seriously, specially such a crucial accusation. We see earlier that Klara's brother is watching pornographic pictures on his phone, he shows a picture of erect penis to her as well as she hears him saying rubbish stuff related to that. Klara is just an innocent child, she can't make sense of it so in her own way she takes this and speak of it in a confused manner. And her confusion is directed towards Lucas because she loves him a lot as he shows so much of affection to her. What she tells the head of the kindergarten is that she doesn't like Lucas anymore because he has a penis and it is stiff. Without even considering a second opinion or option, the adults start behaving in a stupid manner and the entire community just turns up against the person. She is too young to have a clear mind and understanding. What helps us as a viewer is knowing exactly and quite clearly that Lucas is innocent because we see that he is. The judgement of everyone else there is clouded, they can't see clearly so they just run to catch the first person they find in the clear who happens to be Lucas. But this very fact ultimately is what comes across as painful to us viewers seeing all that is happening to Lucas and knowing that you can't stop them. Lucas is now deemed as a sexual predator and shut off from the community because of that one albeit big misunderstanding. On several occasions, he is beaten up, his son too, his social life falls apart, he breaks up with his girlfriend. Even his dog is killed. The violence and rage increases with time, he is not safe in his own home, nobody around him is. This whole euphoria provides an easy cover up for some of the people to start behaving like animals. Which is what happens a lot in such situations. Like how peaceful protests turns into a war zone in no time thanks to a bunch of people. As adults and responsible human beings with friends and families, we should always try to at least keep a clear head even in the worse situations. It is hard to do that when something horrible happens to us or our family but suspicion and doubt always brings about the worse in us. It is better to be careful than to regret our actions later on.
Mads Mikkelsen gives what is probably his career best performance. He maintains that sense of a completely normal and perfect human being with an imperfect life. Like Lucas' marital life has fallen apart but that doesn't mean he don't care about his son. He has a girlfriend whom he really likes and can see a future where he can love and be loved while still trying the best he can to be a good father to his son. Lucas lives a life where he is happy, very confident and lively. He loves his job, he loves children and has the ability to interact and engage with them. The fact that his life turns upside down thanks to the children themselves is deeply disturbing. The fact that he is unable to protect himself but worse, his son and his dog whom he really loves, destroys him slowly. The final shock for him is the fact that his only best friend, Theo, never gives him a chance to explain himself and makes up his mind about it. The little sympathy and a sense of friendly gesture that he tries to show to Lucas is thrown away by his wife. I simply loved Mikkelsen's powerful turn in this film. A story where Lucas is an ordinary man who is accused of doing the worse thing imaginable. The way Lucas' life slowly deteriorates into nothing more than hatred and violence from the very people that he loves is uncomfortable as well as shocking. One of the most powerful scenes comes when Lucas is in the church along with everyone including Theo for Christmas. It is best seen than described but just that one sequence has Mikkelsen showing such extraordinary performance that leaves you emotionally wrecked by the agony that the character feels to be sidelined by everyone and specially his best friend over something he knows he never did. But he can't prove it, he never can. Frustration, depression and helplessness gets to him and life of that ordinary person is seen falling apart by us right in front of our eyes. Mikkelsen is not only in the form and very much into his character and the emotions but he is able to capture, understand and live that change. Poignant, sympathetic and (I know I can't get enough of using this word for him but) powerful performance. Thomas Bo Larsen gives a good performance as well, I remember him from "The Celebration" which had easily his better performance. He too is able to portray his character's torn sensibility as a worried/raging father of an abused child and an equally worried/raging friend of a person who might be responsible for this. One cannot help but see him as among the "crowd" and it is understandable. But somehow he peaks out in those few moments where you are able to see the silver lining. Annika Wedderkopp as Klara is surprisingly good as well. You wont believe her performing with such ease where no child imaginable would even remotely pull this whole thing off.
The Hunt is written in a very beautiful, striking and precise manner. The characters are drawn out very well, the dialogue is perfect. The characters in this movie are not fillers for evil, they are just normal people of a normal community reacting violently to the heinous crime they think somebody committed. They are people like us, we are aware of the potential in us to turn into something similar in such situations. Also the very thought of us in Lucas' shoes is frightening. See, life can turn to hell in no time. Anything can happen. This movie never tries to be too obscure or straightforward and obvious. Everything is well placed and explored without going for overtly arty approach. The direction is top notch as well. Every bit of reaction that Vinterberg wants from us, he gets it. He is able to make us uncomfortable in our seats, that is the whole point of this movie. You guys might have seen movies or heard stories about those witch hunts where innocent women were killed for being witches. It is the same thing here. Different situation but the same thing. I also really admired the cinematography of this film, the autumn colors and then the winter. The atmosphere itself is so bleak, distant and dry. The shots in the forests are a delight to watch. The shots of people and their reactions, the close-ups and the happenings during the dead of night are the opposite of that. The use of light and colors as well as the overall visual spectrum seems to slowly change with time over the occurrences in the movie. Like everything seems so clear and sunny but the weather turns into foggy, dark and rustic as the movie proceeds. The Hunt is one of the best movies of the year. A deeply unsettling, realistic and heart stopping look at the turns of events as a result of one simple misunderstanding. The ending of this movie will leave you very sad and depressed for a while. These things never leave, they always come around to haunt us. With visual beauty, excellent performances, great depiction and exploration of its subject and superb direction and writing, The Hunt is a movie not to be missed.