The Hunt at 56th BFI London Film Festival

This close-shot film by Thomas Vinterberg looks at the reaction of a small hunting community when one of them is accused of child abuse. Like Ian McEwan’s AtonementThe Hunt throws up the question of how much trust we put in children, their fallibility and their understanding of honesty. But in sharper focus is the image of human reaction to such an accusation. In short, if it’s conceivable that you’ve done something to a child, you will be thrown to the dogs.

What Vinterberg questions with his superbly strong script and achingly cool cinematography is where our rationality and our humanity goes when we react like this and whether our reacting with such resolution about a crime involving children, is really a positive example of our human instincts at all.

The focus of the case is the “imaginative” Klara. Adorable and intelligent, she is exposed to a little too much information, and is able to articulate a scenario she knows is bad and put her father’s best friend, Lucas, at the heart of it.

As word spreads and all the parents at the kindergarten where Lucas works are told to watch out for signs of abuse, numerous false cases of sexual misconduct with children emerge making Lucas the target of a barrage of hate as his community turns on him with what they deem is evidence enough: the testimony of children. In presenting the reaction of Klara’s family and their friends alongside the isolation and hopelessness that Lucas is forced to dwell in, the whole film screams ‘What would you do!?’ in one long breath that regularly breaks off to ask ‘but what should we do?’ before it resumes.

The flawless central performance from Mads Mikkelsen and the script full of witty lines and comebacks, combines to hammer home the image of a community clinging to their gut instincts and often mistaking their immediate reactions for moral, intelligent responses, but he doesn’t present much of a predicament on their part. As an audience watching this unfold, we seem to face more of a dilemma deciding what to believe and where we stand, whereas for the parents, it’s clear cut: if you hurt a kid, you no longer deserve any human decency. What’s more, the morality of individuals not involved in the case, is somehow decided by their response to the incident. Loyalties are questioned, emotions run high and it seems you’re either for the protection of children at all costs, or wayward yourself.

But when Vinterberg touches on the complexities of such stark divides, the need for Lucas to face his accusers and the doubt in the mind of Klara’s father, those lines become blurred and a taut but internalised debate ensues. Ultimately, he shows the human capacity for forgiveness a community’s ability to make up for their own crimes but in the final, jolting scene, he also depicts the underlying notion that our instincts, our deep-rooted gut feelings are sometimes too strong to give up.

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