The Hunt (2012) — Image via magpictures.com

The Hunt

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (2012)

Viewers of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (Jagten) will not immediately recognize it as a horror film. It certainly does not follow the conventions of the genre. Yet it probably deserves to be considered one anyway. In Vinterberg’s film, there are no monsters or other supernatural phenomena. Rather, the horror that is visited upon the film’s protagonist, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), takes the form of his close-knit community, including his oldest friends, turning against him out of an irrational panic that, on the surface, appears as a most modern and civilized rationality.

At the beginning of the film, we learn a few things about Lucas. He lives in the small Danish village where he grew up. He recently lost his job as a teacher when the local school closed, and now he works at the village’s kindergarten. He is divorced, and his ex-wife lives in another part of the country with their son, Markus (Lasse Fogelstrøm). His social life revolves around the local hunting club, and his only companion at home is his dog, Fanny. Despite being overqualified, he seems to enjoy his job, is certainly well-liked by the children, and has attracted the amorous attentions of a co-worker, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), a recent immigrant to Denmark.

The Hunt (2012) — Image via magpictures.comOne of the children at the kindergarten is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of Lucas’s best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). Klara has a vivid imagination, and after Lucas inadvertently hurts her feelings, she makes some very vague complaints about him that lead Grethe (Susse Wold), who runs the kindergarten, to believe that Lucas has exposed himself to Klara. From this point on, slowly and methodically, events spiral out of control, leading almost everyone in the village to conclude that Lucas is guilty of abusing not only Klara but many other children as well.

The Hunt manages to avoid falling into some common hot-button-issue film traps. For one thing, the audience is never left in any doubt of Lucas’s innocence, so there is no cheap suspense along the lines of, “Is he a monster or a victim?” And yet his adversaries, for the most part, are not presented as “bad guys.” Grethe, in particular, makes some awfully bad decisions (allowing a friend to ask Klara inappropriate leading questions, announcing her suspicions at a parent meeting, etc.), but given what she knows and does not know, it is not hard to see that those decisions are rooted in her desire to do the right thing. Likewise, the process by which most of the community turns on Lucas develops over time in a matter that is, on some level, completely understandable, though ultimately misguided.

The Hunt (2012) — Image via magpictures.comNone of this, of course, is any comfort to Lucas. He is fired from his job, shunned by his friends, arrested in front of his son, and targeted by anonymous assailants. And what is the most horrifying to him is that the people responsible for this are people he has known all his life, people who have been central to his existence since childhood. Lucas genuinely believes that these people should be able to look into his eyes and see that he is telling the truth and has done nothing wrong. And many of them — most notably Theo — would like to be able to do so, but when they try, they find that they cannot. The loneliness Lucas feels when he realizes that nobody else can actually peer into his soul is, ultimately, the central source of horror in The Hunt.

Mikkelsen does an impressive job as Lucas, particularly in portraying his struggle to maintain a stoic attitude and play by the rules despite the extreme accusations leveled against him. Larsen’s performance as Theo, an imperfect husband and father torn in two by what he believes to have happened, is another highlight of the film. And Vinterberg keeps things moving steadily without any hint of sensationalism, resulting in a somber and unsettling but ultimately satisfying film.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.