The Hunt

The Hunt ★★★★½

Director - Thomas Vinterberg
Writers - Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg
Cast - Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Akexandra Rapaport, Lars Ranthe, Ole Dupont, Susse Wold and Anne Louise Hassing

Trailer

Well, I’m in pieces now…

Jagten tells the story of Lucas (Mikkelsen), a nursery teacher who is wrongly accused of indecent contact with a number of children. Beginning with a young girl called Klara (Wedderkopp), the daughter of his best friend Theo (Bo Larsen), who claims that Lucas showed her his penis when it was “pointy”, rumour and speculation spread like wildfire and, before long, almost all of the children in Lucas’ care are demonstrating symptoms of abuse, from nightmares to bed-wetting. Ostracised by a community that simply refuses to consider that their children are either mistaken or lying, Lucas finds himself the victim of a hate campaign by people he used to get on well with. His son Marcus (Fogelstrøm), a teenage boy who has been living with his Mother, returns to the community to defend his Father and he works, along with his Godfather, to prove Lucas’ innocence. The community, however, doesn’t want to know. As far as they’re concerned, Lucas is guilty and nothing – not even the decision of the court to release him – will change their minds. As Lucas’ life spirals increasingly out of control and as he feels the full force of the community’s hatred, he turns to alcohol and aggression to help get him through each day. It is a fascinating insight into how one little untruth can ruin a man’s life, into how children are always believed and into the mentality of the mob.

Now, before I sat down to watch this film I was a little bit wary. A number of films and TV shows have tried to tackle such issues in the past and they have invariably degenerated into nothing but victim-blaming. Jagten, however, manages to avoid such an approach and it even manages to avoid suggesting that false accusations are a real problem or that they’re common. Simply put, false accusations are incredibly rare and this film absolutely nails that truth; the reaction of the community, and the manner in which they rally to the defence of their children even when their stories don’t add up, is horrible and heart-wrenching to watch, especially because the first act does such a stellar job of setting up Lucas’ position and standing amongst the people of the community. The film begins with humour, heart and soul and, step-by-step, it almost methodically demolishes each of these things, leaving the audience feeling hopeless and really quite unsettled.

Part of what makes Jagten such a success is that it gets under your skin and never really lets you go. Though the film’s sympathies lie primarily with the accused, the way in which the parents of the apparent victims are portrayed is incredibly uncomfortable to watch, partly because you appreciated the fact that they are so scared for the well-being of their children. When Lucas and Theo first meet, after the initial accusation, there is a heart-breaking moment in which Theo tells Lucas that he believes his daughter because his daughter never lies. Theo’s attitude, and the expression on his face, suggests that this isn’t the case, and you get the feeling that deep down he knows Lucas would never harm his child. He is forced, in that moment, to make a choice between his daughter and his best friend. That decision can only go one way, and it’s utterly devastating. From then on, the community is presented as increasingly irrational, albeit with good reason, to the point that even Marcus – an obviously innocent party – is ostracised. They need someone to blame, in order to make sense of what has happened, and it just so happens that turning on the defenceless and the blameless is the best thing they can think to do. Even Lucas’ dog suffers at their hands, which is a particularly upsetting moment as she is all Lucas had left in the World other than his son.

And yet, despite the fact that the community treats Lucas so wickedly, one cannot help but feel for them. In their eyes, a man they trusted with the most important thing in their lives has betrayed them in the most opprobrious way. Though I’m not a parent, I imagine a lot of parents watching the film will have a lot of sympathy with those who treat Lucas the way they do, partly because they could probably imagine themselves reacting in the same way. It’s a tough watch and it’s one that never trivialises or glorifies the subject it is exploring. At times it infuriated me, at others it reduced me to a blubbering wreck, but it never felt heavy-handed or melodramatic and the fact it feels so realistic is part of what makes it so unsettling and difficult to swallow.

On a final note, it would be a crime for me to review this film without talking a bit about the phenomenal acting from everyone involved. Mads Mikkelsen is absolutely sensational, capturing every single fraught emotion that his character is experiencing with an ease that is utterly effortless and incredibly endearing. It is simply impossible not to like Lucas, even when he is at his lowest and most nasty, because Mikkelsen pretty much becomes him. It is a shame that such a powerhouse performance hasn’t been recognised for its brilliance, but that’s Hollywood for you. Similarly, Wedderkopp and Fogelstrøm are superb as Klara and Marcus, particularly when you consider what is being asked of them, and the achingly horrific moment when Marcus turns up at Theo’s house and starts screaming at Klara to tell the truth left me a total wreck. Everybody, from the children to the adults, give it all they’ve got, resulting in a film in which you believe everything you see and you feel like a real community has been destroyed.

This won’t be for everyone; the subject matter alone might turn some people off, and the fact it is so unrelenting may be too much for some people to stomach. I know I felt very conflicted by the end of it all, and I’m not sure I ever want to watch it again, but I’m glad I’ve seen it now because it is an absolute master class in how to handle such a controversial and divisive subject.

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