Thomas Vinterberg not only spearheaded the Dogme 95 movement with Lars von Trier, he made people pay attention to it with his 1998 feature The Celebration (aka Festen), a searing family drama of raw emotion, primal rage, and healing solidarity strewn with dark humor and discomforting situations. The Hunt is not bound to the self-imposed restrictions of the Dogme movement but otherwise it returns to the same intensity of volatile emotions and social transgressions. It’s uncompromising and uncomfortable, a film that had me knotted up in anxiety yet unable to turn away, and it’s Vinterberg’s best film since The Celebration.
Mads Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a dedicated teaching assistant at a pre-school in a small town in Denmark, and Annika Wedderkopp is Klara, the pre-school-age girl who adores this gentle man, a family friend whose warm presence is an escape from the tension at home. In a moment of childish pique after he admonishes her for kissing him on the lips (“That’s reserved for Mom and Dad,” he insists), she spits out some angry comments mixed with sexually-suggestive phrases overheard from her brother and his porn-obsessed buddies. She clearly has no idea what these words actually mean and there is no malicious intent, merely a child blowing off steam, but the ambiguous comments quite rightly lead to an investigation of possible child sexual abuse.