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Review: The Hunt (2013)

The Hunt (2013)

Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg

Premise: A Danish film in which a kindergarten teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) is wrongfully accused of sexually abusing a child. As suspicion and rumor begin to escalate, the teacher’s life and relationships begin to collapse.
What Works: The Hunt is a powerful drama about the power of accusations and the way society’s readiness to protect children can lead people down destructive and irrational paths. The film is led by Mads Mikkelsen as the kindergarten teacher. The character is portrayed as a credible and likeable man, someone who is gentle and descent but he is not inhumanely goodhearted either. This gives him a lot of credibility as a character and as the accusations build, Mikkelsen incorporates the stress into his performance. One of the startling things about the The Hunt is the way in which ordinary tasks and innocent gestures are corrupted by accusations. Everything Mikkelsen’s character does is looked upon with suspicion. He tries to carry on with his life but finds it increasingly constricted as the townsfolk gradually close in, cutting him off and eventually attacking him, his property, and his family. This is done frightfully well and the movie taps into a deep seeded human fear of the pack turning on us. Yet, for as much as Mikkelsen suffers, the townspeople of The Hunt are not just a mindless mob. The father of the accuser, played by Thomas Bo Larsen, maintains his humanity and in his performance is found another curious aspects of this film: the way it reveals the power of accusations. Although the charges are fabricated, the impact on the teacher, the parents, and others is as far reaching as though they were real. The reaction of the parents and of the townspeople are revealing and distressing because it indicts the self-righteousness that many of us feel toward those who prey on the vulnerable. The Hunt is so powerful because it dramatizes the way the innocent can be trampled in the rush to protect children.

What Doesn’t: For most of its running time The Hunt is expertly done but the final moments are clumsy. There is a difference between an ambiguous ending and failing to conclude the story but the filmmakers of The Hunt fall for the latter. The moviemakers want to leave the viewer on a disconcerting note, which is appropriate for the tone of the story, but the way that is accomplished opens new narrative possibilities instead of closing the ones that already exist. The Hunt is also problematic in a more theoretical way. It is clear from the outset that the accusation of The Hunt is false and the victim in this scenario is the accused teacher. That works for the movie and the filmmakers tell this story well. However, there is a roundabout but legitimate criticism of this film in that it is another story dealing with sexual assault as a false accusation. Sexual assault is real and pervasive while false accusations are rare. Just as the movie Disclosure distorted the gender politics around sexual harassment, stories like The Hunt unintentionally provide shelter for the marginalization of sexual assault. It is important to note that there is no indication that the filmmakers of The Hunt intended to trivialize this issue and the film is a thoughtful consideration of the impact these accusations have on everyone involved. Ultimately, whatever theoretical problems The Hunt may have are not so much about this film but about the failure of filmmakers and society in general to recognize the problem of sexual assault. It is unfair to criticize the makers of this film for a message they didn’t make and so the film has to be evaluated based on its cinematic accomplishments and what it reveals about society and human behavior, which are considerable.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, trailer.

Bottom Line: The Hunt is an exceptional and provocative film. Despite the flaws of its ending, The Hunt is a very thoughtful and well-made picture with a terrific central performance by Mads Mikkelsen.

Episode: #477 (February 9, 2014)