For years Thomas Vinterberg has been best known for ‘Festen’, a masterfully composed portrait of corrosive family secrets and childhood trauma. It is therefore fitting that his latest film, and quite possibly the one which will usurp ‘Festen’ as his most memorable, deals with the other side of child abuse.
Thomas Vinterberg’s caustic debut Festen explored a family’s disturbance following a revelation of child abuse. With its drama unfolding from a similarly catastrophic accusation, The Hunt sees him back on electrifying form, again displaying a masterful control over his difficult subject matter, albeit in markedly different ways.
Lucas is a much-loved kindergarten teacher, finally getting back on track after a messy divorce and loss of his previous job.
Lucas’ world is further shattered, however, when a young girl in his class accuses him of inappropriate behavior. Soon the peaceful community turn against him, united by a ferocity that threatens to destroy him.
Propelled by an extraordinary performance from Mads Mikkelsen, this distressing examination of a false indictment, and the collective hysteria that ensues, is an emotionally complex piece of work, balancing heart-stopping tension with intelligence and subtle provocation.
‘The Hunt’ sits far from the finger-pointing and bold strokes that characterize media coverage of this subject matter. Like ‘Michael’, the disturbing portrait of the banal life of a pedophile released earlier this year, this is a film that trades in psychological subtleties.
The slow-building of mistrust, the dawning of the seriousness of the situation on Lucas, and the unbearable completeness of the turnaround of community opinion make this a terrifying film to behold. Watching a life slowly unravel so comprehensively is torture, and when you throw in Vinterberg’s eye for the human drama it’s just devastating.
The crowning glory, though, is Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Lucas. The restraint he shows in the early stages of crisis emphasizes his disbelief without hammering it home, and as signs of stress seep through poignant and sharply observed moments we build to a climax that delivers the impact of Lucas’s complete destruction without even remotely erring towards melodrama or grandstanding. It’s a true acting masterclass.
For the full two hours, we were on the edge of our seats, rapt, dry-mouthed and appalled. This is a film that cuts to the heart of social discord, delivered in with real power and finesse.