Absorbing if not particularly innovative, “The Hunt” sees helmer Thomas Vinterberg returning to the Cannes competition with another child-abuse-themed pic, 12 years after “The Celebration.” While that earlier film’s reputation as the director’s best remains unchallenged, his latest, which explores the disturbing ripple effects of a false sexual-abuse accusation, will fit snugly into the recent run of solid Danish dramas that have done well at fests and in arthouses worldwide. As an added marketing bonus, Mads Mikkelsen (“Casino Royale”) is effectively cast against type in the lead.
Scripted by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm (who co-penned the helmer’s previous pic, “Submarino”), “The Hunt” touches on a subject explored in more stomach-churning fashion by the recent French pic “Guilty,” as well as by Danish helmer Jacob Thuesen’s “The Accused” (2005). All these films demonstrate that the most adults, when confronted with accusations of this nature, will instinctually believe and want to protect the children, with little presumption of innocence for the alleged perpetrators.
Recently divorced kindergarten teacher Lucas (Mikkelsen) wouldn’t hurt a fly, except when he goes hunting for deer in the forest (the somewhat heavy-handed excuse for the title’s double entendre). His teenage son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom), would actually prefer to live with his cool dad, though his mom is making this difficult. In fact, Lucas is so lovable that one of his kindergarten students, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), has a crush on him. However, when she’s found out, Klara becomes defensive and, perhaps inspired by porn images she spotted on a sibling’s iPad, she leads the head of the day-care center, Grethe (Susse Wold), to believe Lucas exposed himself.
Grethe needs little convincing that the innocent-looking blonde girl is a victim, and informs first Klara’s parents and then all the other adults who have children at the center. This leads to a predictable community backlash against Lucas, who at first isn’t even aware which of the children has accused him of committing the unspeakable acts.
Vinterberg wisely sticks to the p.o.v. of the falsely accused lead throughout. Except for Marcus and his godfather (Lars Ranthe), everyone begins to doubt Lucas’ innocence — from Klara’s father (Thomas Bo Larsen, “The Celebration”), who happens to be Lucas’ best friend, to a hot foreign colleague-cum-g.f. (Alexandra Rapaport) — and either cuts off contact or is pushed away. The rest of the village turns into a vocal, violent mob only a baseball bat removed from cliche.
Known for his often icy and violent characters, Mikkelsen impresses here as a warm-hearted man who finds himself caught up in a situation way beyond his control; thesp makes Lucas’ immediate isolation and subsequent frustration tangible. Just as good is little Wedderkopp, delivering an impressive perf that suggests Klara, too, is caught up in something she can barely understand. Ensemble cast is aces, with Larsen a standout in the film’s second half. The ending serves up a nice final sting.
Set in the two months leading up to Christmas, “The Hunt” looks and sounds like a comfortably budgeted Danish drama, with the requisite crisp, occasionally twitchy widescreen lensing, solid sound work and a restrained score.