The Hunt (Jagten) (2012)

10 Aug

Some fourteen years after the release of The Celebration – the film that cemented his reputation -Thomas Vinterberg returns to the heavy subject matter of child sexual abuse. But while The Celebration was about a young man finally revealing to his family about his father’s sexual abuse, The Hunt is about the stigma of being defined as an abuser, particularly when the definition is false. In The Hunt Lucas, a kindergarten teacher in a small and insular town, is falsely implicated in the abuse of his best friend’s four-year old daughter, Klara. The poor and coercive interviewing techniques of a child psychologist lead to more accusations of abuse and Lucas becomes reviled and is eventually ostracised by his community.

The film depicts a very real and very disturbing panic that occured in the 80s and 90s known as day care sex abuse hysteria. Echoes of the Peter Ellis case, and many others who were accused of outrageous acts of cruelty against children reverberate through the film: Vinterberg captures the same tiny but damning mistakes that both fictional and real parents and authorities make out of fear. What becomes equally as frightening as the idea of the abuse itself is that once the town believes the worst about Lucas, it is impossible to convince them otherwise.

Much like The Celebration, this film makes for devastating viewing; watching Lukas’ inevitable decline is, for the most part, excruciating. The Hunt could have been overwrought, and it does come close to being so, but it is saved by brilliantly honest performances and by an understated directorial turn from Vinterberg.

The Hunt does seem like a book-end to The Celebration, not simply of the subject matter, but because they are both about extreme reactions – there seems to be, understandably, no middle ground when it comes to child sex abuse. While the abuse is the white elephant in the room in The Celebration, ignorance being preferable to the horrific truth, the mere speculation of child sex abuse creates a kind of madness that invades the lives of every character in The Hunt. The result is troubling – it is not simply that we cannot have a measured conversation about the abuse of children, but that the subject is so utterly overwhelming that we cannot even imagine what that conversation would look like.

This film is Vinterberg at his best, understated in terms of stylistic execution, but still utterly fearless. Highly recommended.

By Tessa Clews

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