Poor Thomas Vinterberg. No matter how hard he tries, he still can’t quite free himself from the shackles of his critically applauded Festen. Made 14 years ago, Festen still stands as one of the finest and most innovative achievements of 90s cinema, garnering success not just in its native Denmark, but also around the world. Now, Vinterberg has finally achieved the sense of drama and tension that characterised his debut back in 1998. In fact if anything, The Hunt (original title Jagten) is even more nail-bitingly tense than Vinterberg’s modern classic. Furthermore, it is likely to be the tautest and most nerve-shredding two hours you’ll experience at the cinema this year.
Mads Mikkelson (Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising) stars as Lucas, a divorced yet content middle-aged nursery teacher, living in a small community shrouded in values and moral decency. Taking part in annual deer hunting trips and regarded as a highly respected figure, Lucas’ world is irrevocably changed after one of the children at the nursery makes a false yet horrifying accusation that Lucas has sexually abused her. The accusation soon spirals into a campaign of hate and what follows is a nail-biting examination on the power of paranoia and how rationality is left at bay in times of crisis.
There’s no sense in denying that the story of a man struggling under the weight of false accusations already feels like well-trodden ground. But what prevents any slide into familiar territory is the way in which Vinterberg constantly surprises us and handles his characters. Mikkelson in particular is brilliant as the tortured Lucas, in what is surely one of the year’s greatest performances. Moreover, there is Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s marvellous cinematography which capture the film’s brutally uncomfortable moments, with a delicate tapestry that is woven with great skill.
Urgent, provocative and handled with outstanding dramatic sensibility, The Hunt reflects upon the mass hysteria and panic of a community whilst showing the effects of paranoia and fear which spread with rapid progression. Mads Mikkelson provides an excellent performance as outcast Lucas, giving a stunning portrayal of a man who comes face to face with his own sanity. Vinterberg’s direction shows that he is still capable of producing well crafted and superbly dramatic films which few others can achieve with such poignancy and depth. Deeply unsettling and thought-provoking, The Hunt marks a welcome return for Vinterberg and showcases Mikkelson’s tremendous acting abilities.
The Hunt is released in cinemas on 30th November.