Once You Get The Stink On You…["The Hunt" Review] Jul23

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Once You Get The Stink On You…["The Hunt" Review]

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Those old enough to remember the McMartin trial, the most expensive criminal prosecution in Los Angeles history (at the time), will understand the reality of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt.

Members of the McMartin family, falsely accused of sexually abusing students in their daycare, spent years in prison until finally exonerated. The Hunt transplants the American moral panic to a small Danish town, exploring in maddening detail how a few mistaken words from a child can turn a community upside down.

Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a soft spoken kindergarten teacher in his early 40′s, still recovering from a traumatic divorce. Students respond to him, attracted to the child-like manner he exudes. It’s not that Lucas isn’t able to relate to adults, his circle of friends is robust, it’s just that he’s starting over again.

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Klara, the imaginative five-year-old daughter of Lucas’ best friend, creates a strong bond with him in her head. He is the stable, kind alternative to her tumultuous family life. She falls in love with him in that confused, cute way children do and kisses him on the lips.

Angered and embarrassed by Lucas’ rebuke of her gesture (he kindly explains to her the inappropriateness of her actions), Klara conflates an incident with her brother’s friend to insult Lucas – relating sensitive information to the principal about Lucas’ private parts.

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This misunderstanding sets in motion a series of devastating events that send Lucas’ life into a spiraling hell of alienation, contempt and eventually violence. The power of The Hunt is our knowledge of Lucas’ innocence and the empathy it creates within us.

How should the principal react? Even if she’s prone to imagination, how could Klara know such sensitive information? As an adult and the head of a kindergarten, it’s her job to protect children from predators. Isn’t it prudent to believe the child first and foremost?

It took psychologists a little too long in America to figure out that children will admit to almost anything if you lead them to the confession. Child witnesses corroborated absurd accusations in the McMartin trial because law enforcement filled in the details for them.

There’s a wonderful scene with a specialist who, even after Klara denies anything happened, coerces her into implicating Lucas by directing her along the way. Klara just wants to go outside and play, the quicker she tells him what he wants, the quicker she can leave.

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Mads Mikkelsen (from Hannibal: The Series) won Best Actor at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. His understated portrayal of Lucas is heartbreaking, we want him to lash out at his accusers, proclaim his innocence from the mountaintops but he holds it all inside.

Until, I should say, he finally stands up for himself in a deeply satisfying scene at a grocery store he’s been banned from. The film rests on Mikkelsen’s shoulders and even though it gets bogged down in contrivance a little here and there, Mikkelsen never waivers.

The ending of The Hunt, although satisfying in its own right, is a little too easy. It robs the story from a powerful climax, choosing instead to pay off a conspicuous character moment from earlier.

Still, Vinterberg’s drama is an engrossing story, carefully constructed, well acted and worth your time if you can find it.