If you’ve seen Sam Peckinpah’s masterfully macabre “Straw Dogs” (let’s all please agree to forget the far inferior recent remake) then you’re already up to speed on what happens in “The Hunt” : quiet European hamlet; a mindful and reserved intellect with a complex past; slow constant simmer; sexual tension; strong reactions based on false assumptions; and a gentlemanly hunt in the woods serving as a ruse for a deeper more perverse game at hand.
Though the arc, ambiance and elements of the two films bear many acute similarities, the context and articulation could not be further apart. Mads Mikkelsen — whom most US viewers know as Hannibal in the self-titled NBC TV series, or as the European bad-ass who bashed in Bond’s balls in “Casino Royale” — plays Lucas, a quiet man trying to gain some degree of custody of his teen son in the aftermath of a bitter divorce. As a caregiver/instructor at a nursery school, he’s pretty well liked and respected by his peers and his charges — by some, perhaps a little too much. Tow-headed Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) takes his kindness for something more and, after a failed furtive kiss, which Lucas quickly and sternly rebuffs, she becomes angry and tells her parents (who happen to be Lucas’s best friends) and the school head, in vague terms, that Lucas did something to her. Then later, after Klara catches a glimpse of smut on her brother’s iPad and the adults try to further educe from her what exactly transpired, it only takes a few dark slanted inferences for the toxic charge of pedophilia to erupt.
The film directed by Dane Thomas Vinterberg (“The Celebration”), a Dogme 95 compatriot of Lars con Trier, leverages its remote Danish townlet setting where justice is administered by elected elders and enforcement, when needed, comes from somewhere afar, so as the rumor billows and emotions flare. There’s a heated call for immediate action–one that will not wait for outside mitigation– as slices of vigilante retribution begin to rain on the accused. Lucas’s son stands by him, as does his new girlfriend, an immigrant cafeteria worker who’s fearful of losing her job and being deported; but in the end Lucas must stand alone against the amassing throng, and boldly so, not unlike Dustin Hoffman’s nebbish in Peckinpah’s bloody classic.
The niggling to “The Hunt” can’t be put onto Mikkelsen or any of the actors, who are sharp and heartfelt in their roles. Mikkelsen’s rendering of internal turmoil, malaise and depressed entrapment, dutifully echoed by the grim, washed-out primal atmosphere etched by Vinterberg, drives the film with purpose. Still, the logic and the obvious questions not asked by normally rational minds both undermine the overall effort. The premise of a town turned inward by accusation and mob justice is a piquant one, it’s just too bad Vinterberg didn’t bring a more spirited dog to the fight.
—- Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies