by Hope Madden
There is one accusation too insidious to ever truly shake, even when it’s unfounded. The Hunt follows the unraveling of one life tainted by that implication.
Danish filmmaker Thomas Viterberg’s restraint behind the camera and the pen allows this quietly devastating tale to unspool at its own pace. It’s November, and the men of Lucas’s small community are daring each other into the freezing lake. Lucas’s best friend strips to nothing and enters, then of course Lucas has to wade in and pull the cramped and drunken buddy back to safety.
Then it’s on to dry clothes and drinking. Later, it’ll be hunting and drinking. It’s all very rustic, charming and masculine, which may be why something feels off when the mild-mannered and deeply decent Lucas makes his way to work at the preschool.
Very slyly, Viterberg creates an atmosphere that separates the masculine from the feminine in a way that hints at a town uncertain of a man who works with children – even if that man is the same truly nice guy you’ve known your whole life.
Viterberg’s observant style picks up casual behaviors, glances, assumptions and choices and turns them into the unerringly realistic image of a small town undone by a rumor of the ugliest sort. He’s aided immeasurably by the powerful turn from his lead, Mads Mikkelson.
For an actor usually saddled with a villain’s role (indeed, he’s currently playing Hannibal Lecter in the TV series), Mikkelson’s reserved and wounded Lucas is a complicated triumph. He won the top prize Cannes awards in acting for a role that proves a breathtaking range.
His work is buoyed by an impressive supporting cast, the gem of which is the chillingly natural little Annika Wedderkopp.
If Viterberg plumbs small town concepts of masculinity to discomfiting effect, what he does with the self-righteous naïveté of upright citizens protecting their young is positively chilling in its authenticity. We watch helplessly as this tiny pebble of an accusation races downhill collecting snow. The quick acceleration of misguided action is breathtaking.
Viterberg seems almost to implicate the audience, because what is the answer? Disbelieve the child?
And if you do believe – would you behave differently?
Small mindedness combines with protectiveness, disgust with suspicion, until a man is no longer considered a man at all but something else entirely. Viterberg’s concern is not simply what happens during the crisis, but whether that crisis can ever finally be resolved. His deliberate and understated storytelling, along with one stunning performance, makes it an unsettling conundrum to consider.