The Hunt – A brutal depiction of small town paranoia

The main goal of the Dogme 95 movement was to create affecting, memorable films by focusing on story, acting and a natural filmmaking style in order to get to the truth of the narrative. It was Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (1998) that was first created following this manifesto, this powerful portrait of a family with harrowing secrets given a startling ferocity by the organic Dogme style. Vinterberg wasn’t to have a film of similar success until The Hunt (2012), an Oscar-nominated piece that with its higher production values seemed to be a million miles from the Dogme movement the Danish filmmaker had founded. On closer inspection though, it still contains the same ideas and themes that would give Dogme its reputation – an aspect that has given it a chilling impact still felt when watching it today.

The Hunt (2012)

While Festen (aka. The Celebration) focused on a family unit slowly breaking down in the midst of accusations, The Hunt focuses on the unravelling of the life of one man in particular. Except this time the accusations are caused by a wrongly uttered word and the imaginations of both children and adults run wild. Writer-director Vinterberg is keen to slowly build to this devastation though, first introducing us to the small Danish town that serves as the backdrop to the story, as well as the close group of male friends at the heart of it who enjoy nothing more than hunting and drinking. Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is one of this group, a teacher at the local nursery and someone well-liked and respected by the whole community. He also has a close bond with Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), one of the girls at the nursery and the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). This bond is suddenly torn in Klara’s eyes though when Lucas rejects a gift from her, and with her feelings hurt she unfortunately says something awful in front of the wrong person.

It is then that The Hunt becomes a film all about the spread of rumours and paranoia, the suspicions about Lucas suddenly causing the whole village to see him in a new, starkly horrifying light. That gradual build at the beginning of the film makes what follows all the more shocking, Klara’s misspoken words coming out of nowhere and setting into motion an avalanche that simply can’t be stopped, especially when further evidence of Lucas’ wrong-doings begin to pile up. Every new revelation is a punch in the gut to him and to us, Lucas at first hitting back and trying to clear his name, yet his resolve slowly crumbling as time goes on. Mikkelsen’s portrayal makes Lucas’ situation all the more tragic, his face a steady mixture of confusion, pain and fragility from the moment he first learns of the accusation, all the way through the film to a later scene during a Church service, which is both beautifully shot and unbearably tragic.

Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) is comforted by her mother Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing)...

Vinterberg and fellow scriptwriter Tobias Lindholm dig deeper than the simple story of one man disgraced though, choosing to make this as much about his accusers and how others close to him are irreversibly affected, such as Lucas’ son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) who is made into a pariah for merely associating with his own father. Vinterberg and Lindholm also focus on Klara herself, a child who is both naïve of the situation she has caused and knows she has done something wrong, but who no-one listens to when she tries to put her mistake right. This idea of her being an innocent child yet knowing more than people think is brilliantly backed-up by the strikingly natural performance Vinterberg coaxes from Wedderkopp, who seems wise beyond her years in some scenes and incredibly young and small at others, such as when she is first confronted about what she said, Klara simply sniffing and nodding along to the questions so she can stay out of trouble and go outside and play again. It is one of the greatest child performances ever captured on film, and another aspect that makes this dark and unflinching narrative all the more crushing – another person’s life ruined by the situation created, partly because of other people’s interference.

It is this scope to The Hunt’s narrative that gives the overall film a power that makes it impossible to forget, similar to Vinterberg’s portrayal of Festen’s tale. While that film’s impact was immediate due to its distinct style, to a certain extent that same Dogme method is present here too, albeit in a subtler way. Vinterberg treats each moment with a stunning naturalness in order to let the performances breathe, giving it a realism that often makes it difficult to watch. Scenes between Mikkelsen and Thomas Bo Larsen (a Festen alumni) particularly reflect this, their portrayals of two best friends slowly driven apart devastating and poignant. Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography also has an interesting naturalness to it in some moments, the camera deftly capturing Lucas’ story alongside a pervading darkness that settles across every scene – a murkiness that hints at the communities own poisonous thoughts and responses to the situation, and a feeling that is present even in the final moments.

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) shares a moment with his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm)...

Few films get under your skin in the way The Hunt does, its honest reflection of how a rumour can spread like a devastating virus shocking yet gripping. It is also an intricate look at a delicate subject, while at the same time a piece that is careful to hold no single individual to blame – a viewpoint that gives this a depth and verisimilitude rarely seen onscreen. Absolutely essential viewing that still packs a punch today.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on August 11, 2017.

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