TIFF Review: The Hunt

The Hunt (2012, directed by Thomas Vinterberg)

A kindergarten student gives her favorite teacher and her father's best friend an innocent peck on the lips. He gently scolds her and tries to let her know that the peck was inappropriate. Feeling rejected, she tells an ugly lie to another teacher. From such small seeds are tragedies born.

The Hunt is a frustrating film, which is suspect is exactly the reaction Vinterberg wants from his audience. Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen, tremendous as always) is too perfectly nice. A divorced dad whose ex-wife seems to be the one with the issues he struggles to deal with being separated from his son but makes the best of it, and is even just starting a relationship with a woman who works at the school. There's no chance of there being anything dark or sinister in his character. He's clearly an innocent man caught up in a horror show. And watching that horror show unfold makes you want to reach into the screen and shake some sense into all the dumbasses who make it happen. Fear and ignorance spread like wildfire. Even young Klara is able to recognize something isn't right, that what she's inadvertently unleashed needs to be put back down, but even though she tries to tell the "adults" that she made it up no one wants to listen. Her denials are dismissed as an attempt to suppress her memories. Lucas' life is ruined in an instant, as Klara's one little lie turns into a witch hunt and a supposed epidemic of abuse among all the kids in Lucas' charge.

In fact the dominoes seem to fall too neatly as the lie escalates, and critical thinking skills are found to be completely lacking among Lucas' friends and neighbors, but that has to be Vinterberg's point. False accusations and witch hunts happen in real life, and this is more or less exactly how they happen. It's a little too pat in the film, but that just heightens your sense of impotence in the face of the injustice. If it's frustrating to watch it's because human weakness can be frustrating to watch. We should be better than this, and far too often we aren't.

Mikkelsen's ability and willingness to let himself get broken down completely and discover what's at his character's core is on full display, and his performance saves the film. The Hunt feels like a lesser effort from Vinterberg in the end, simply because things are just too black and white, but that's hardly an indictment. Personally, I'll take lesser Vinterberg over peak Haneke any day.

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