As one can expect from the director who made a name for himself with the Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg’s the Hunt (Jagten) feels like a brutal roller coaster of victimization with the audience’s sympathy clearly placed on the protagonist’s shoulders. It’s a brilliant piece of emotional manipulation that will hopefully enhance one’s own awareness to rash judgments of those accused and persecuted solely based around the horror of the crime they are alleged to have committed.
With his new film, Vinterberg, who co-wrote the script with Tobias Lindholm, proves himself a director comfortably in tune with his craft. The film stars Mads Mikkelsen, who won best actor at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for his performance as Lucas. In a rather cruel play on dramatic irony, Lucas becomes the target of a witch hunt after a child fibs that he had molested her. News spreads like a virus among the inhabitants of the Danish small town. Lucas and the girl’s relationship is clearly set up so as to be apparent that Lucas is innocent, and the reason behind the child’s thoughtless lie comes from a childish sense of retribution. But only the audience is allowed to see this. The results of the lie then have a downward-spiral effect on Lucas’ job, friendships, family and social standing in the town where everyone knows everybody.
One circumstance after another piles up, leaving the audience feeling as helpless as the film’s protagonist considering the amount of information shared only between the persecuted Lucas and the viewer. Horrors are committed that feel especially cruel considering the dramatic irony that fuels the Hunt. Normally I would not forgive a film that plays with dramatic irony to such a cruel, manipulative hilt, but because the Hunt offers such a harsh indictment to the quick judgments that are practically the bread-and-butter of so many news shows (think Nancy Grace in the U.S.), I feel it’s worth forgiving. It’s a situation that fuels biases on either side of the recent George Zimmerman verdict that sparked rallies across the U.S. over the weekend. Previously, it happened following the trial of another Florida character, Casey Anthony, who was accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter but acquitted. As much as the theme of the Hunt is timeless it also stands timely, and many could use a wake-up call like the Hunt.
Heightening the film’s drama is precision pacing and clean shooting by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen. In fact, the idyllic village with its surrounding forests is beautifully shot, as the Dogme style of home video/natural light featured in the Celebration— as interesting as it was— has long outlived its relevance. Instead, in the Hunt cinematic techniques are used traditionally to seduce the viewer into the film so one might sympathize with the protagonist.
Everyone seems a threat to poor Lucas. Christensen shoots the children at their own eye-level, framing them in positions that speak to their power in affecting the story. A sense of dread permeates the interactions by the suspicious adults not long after the accusations become fodder for whispers behind Lucas’ back. It all culminates with a scene that offers an ambiguous note that should encourage discussion.
Mikkelsen, who has been gaining more and more recognition in his slowly building career, currently highlighted by his performance as Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s new television series “Hannibal,” gives a strong performance. He plays fragile and desperate with shaky ease. But the real highlight is the story and how Vinterberg squeezes out all he can from frustrating dramatic irony that will aggravate some and enthrall others.
The Hunt runs 115 minutes, is in Danish, Polish and English with English subtitles and is rated R (it’s violent and disturbing, but young people of a certain age could have something to learn from this). It premiered in South Florida at this year’s Miami International Film Festival, during which an early version of this review first ran. The Hunt opens this week in South Florida at most indie film houses. It premieres July 25 at O Cinema in Miami. Then, it appears at the following theaters on July 26 (click names for ticket info):