Indie Review: Danish Thriller The Hunt

This one and In A World (review upcoming) are the last two films I saw at MSPfest. I have been intrigued by The Hunt for a while because I’ve been hearing great things about it and Mads Mikkelsen’s performance. Well, he certainly did NOT disappoint.

The Hunt a.k.a. Jagten (2012)

TheHuntPoster

A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.

I came to know Mads Mikkelsen through his role as a bleeding-eyed Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale but he’s not likely to be known only for that role in his distinguished career and that’s because he’s soooo much better than that.

He’s got an icy, almost ominous look to him but here he’s actually very convincing as a warm-hearted, meek Kindergarten teacher. The little kids adore Lucas in the small community he lives in, and though he’s been through a pretty tough divorce and missing his young son in a bitter custody battle, he doesn’t seem to let that affect his friendly demeanor.

The film opens with a bunch of his best mates jumping into a lake in a cool Autumn day. It’s a Danish film so it’s no surprise to see a big burly guy strip naked as he runs into a lake, which then Lucas has to rescue as he gets cramp as he hits the water. So Lucas is well-loved by his pals too, and it’s easy to see why. On the way to school, Lucas often walks past his best friend Theo’s house whose little girl happens to be one of his students. Everything seems sweet and cute as can be as they walk together to school, but soon it’s obvious that the cute blond girl becomes somewhat smitten with Lucas. It sounds quite normal at first, that is until something she said about him ends up escalating beyond anyone, least of all Lucas, would ever have imagined. There’s no such thing as an ‘innocent little lie’ and boy, this film truly shows us the really WORST case scenario of the townsfolk’s witch-hunt reaction.

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At first I was wondering why the title is called The Hunt (Jagten in Danish), but as I’m watching it, it’s most appropriate. Lucas becomes the victim of being deemed guilty in the court of public opinion, his friends shun him and the whole community practically shuts him out that he can’t even shop for groceries. It’s amazing how fast and seemingly easy people could turn on someone, even one of their own, as even Lucas’ new girlfriend doubts him. He virtually has no way of defending himself and given the grave nature of what he’s accused of, I guess I can’t blame people for being resentful of who they think is the perpetrator. Director Thomas Vinterberg doesn’t pull any punches in creating a tense, unsettling atmosphere with minimalist style. The quiet, almost serene look of his film enhances the feeling of terror, it’s as if I feel like I too was being hunted as I was fully immersed in Lucas and his plight.

The film is not violent nor gory, which goes to show that an adept director could effectively gives us the chills without ‘indulging’ in blood and gore. Mikkelsen is absolutely superb as Lucas in one of the Oscar-worthy performances I saw this year. His character is transformed by this unfortunate event and I kept thinking he’d do something drastic as a result, but thankfully the film is not so predictable. Mikkelsen has this quiet grace about him but with this simmering intensity underneath, you just don’t know what he’s capable of and he could truly explode at any moment. There’s a memorable scene on a Christmas eve that I won’t soon forget. Lucas looked back a few times at one of the men sitting a few pews behind him and the way he stares with his watery eyes sent chills down my spine. At that point he’s a desperate man with nothing else to lose and that sense of sorrow and restrained anger… basically a man at the end of his rope. Mikkelsen was able to capture all of that complex emotion in this one scene.

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The film’s supporting cast is quite good, especially Thomas Bo Larsen as Theo and Lasse Fogelstrøm in his debut film role as Lucas’ teenage son, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Mikkelsen. Props to Charlotte Bruus Christensen for her lush and evocative cinematography that is instrumental in creating the serene but eerie atmosphere. Vinterberg, Christensen and Mikkelsen have all deservedly won an award at Cannes for their respective work. It’s inevitable that Tinseltown would beckon the Danish auteur with his film’s success. I have no problem with that, just so long as he maintain his skillful film-making skills when he makes his Hollywood film.


4.5 out of 5 reels

Thoughts on The Hunt, if you have seen this one, I’d love to hear what you think! 

45 thoughts on “Indie Review: Danish Thriller The Hunt

  1. Looks good. Mads Mikkelsen has become a favorite of mine, too. Like you, ‘Casino Royale’ was the vector. That led me back to re-discover him in the small but magnetic support role of Tristan in the guilty-pleasure that was Antoine Fuqua’s ‘King Arthur’ and his virtually silent presence in ‘Valhalla Rising’. He’s great, too, in the new TV series, Hannibal (as you-know-who). He’s always interesting, to say the least. Thanks, Ruth.

    1. He was in King Arthur?? Wow, I really need to go back and watch that again. I want to check out Hannibal too as I like Hugh Dancy as well. I think you’ll appreciate The Hunt, Michael.

          1. I thought he was also the best part of the Clash of the Titans remake. Many people hated the movie but Mikkelsen was fantastic. But my favorite work of his is still from Flame and Citron.

  2. awesome! As you know this is a film I’m dying to see. Mikkelsen is a favorite actor of mine and he’s a guy that deserves A LOT more attention than he gets. Great to see him getting appreciation from all over for this performance. Now if only it would open up SOMEWHERE around me!!!

    1. Hi Keith! If you’re mad about Mads (sorry!) then I think you’ll appreciate this film. He definitely needs to win an Oscar by now, sheesh! I hope this opens near you soon.

  3. watched this the other night, really good film. working on my review now so I will come read in full after that if that’s okay. Glad you liked it.

    1. Hi Steph, so you haven’t seen Casino Royale yet? He certainly has an interesting face, one you don’t forget easily. He’s attractive in an unconventional kind of way, but his acting skills is muy impressive.

  4. Ted S.

    I saw the trailer of this movie a while back, looks very interesting, I’ll give it a rent when it hits Bluray.

    “I have no problem with that, just so long as he maintain his skillful film-making skills when he makes his Hollywood film.”

    Unfortunately, I think he may not have the luxury of being free to make the film the way he wants here in the States. As you know studio executives always want control, especially when if it’s someone new in Hollywood. Just like most of the Asian directors who decided to come and make films here, most non-British European directors had a hard time being successful here.

    1. I know you like thrillers Ted so definitely give this a shot.

      Yeah I know, I kinda said that as wishful thinking as big studios can’t stop meddling with the artistic vision of the directors, ugh! I hope he’d sign up with something smaller instead of blockbuster stuff, even something like Stoker is fine as it’s not really a big tent-pole project.

      1. Ted S.

        Also, some directors from over sea doesn’t know how the system work here. For example, John Woo said when he finished his first American film, Hard Target, he didn’t know about the rating system and he was told edit out the violence to get an R rating instead of NC-17 or X.

        So many talented European directors came and went pretty fast since they’re not use to how things work in Hollywood. Too much studio involvement and what ends up on the screen isn’t what the director or writer had envisioned. A good example is The Tourist, apparently it was a great script and they even got the German director, who shot to fame for directing The Lives of Others. Unfortunately the film wasn’t that good because the studio involvement.

    1. Hi T, well I haven’t seen Valhalla Rising and After the Wedding yet but I’d think this would rate as one of his best work, as he carried the whole film here and he was VERY capable.

    1. Thanks Tyson! Since you like horror, I think there are some aspects in this film that you’d appreciate, on top of the fantastic acting performances of course.

    1. Powerful indeed Mark. It’s quite tough to watch and sooo heart-wrenching but definitely worth seeing even just to see Mads’ performance.

  5. Great review Ruth. Had this on my watch list for a little while now and really interested in seeing it. I watched the first episode of the Hannibal TV series and Mikkelsen was superb in it, although not convinced about the show itself yet.

    1. Hi Chris! I highly recommend this one. I still haven’t got around to seeing Hannibal but it’s got two actors I like, Mads and Hugh Dancy.

  6. Haven’t seen a foreign movie for a while… and non-French ones probably are in a past further than a year.. but you got my interest up. Though European cinema is sometimes too.. European for my taste (French cinema being an exception for some reason), I think I’d like this one.
    PS: I kind of agree with Terry on the Hannibal comment, though for me, great actor or not, I just can’t see Mikkelsen as THE Hannibal.

    1. Hi Mettelray! Ahah, European cinema is too European, that’s funny but I get it, I kinda feel the same way too sometimes but it kinda adds to its charm. I’m just glad this one isn’t too violent but definitely has moments of terror and the whole thing is so unsettling.

      I still need to see Hannibal just for the actors.

        1. I hear ya. A lot of movies have great concepts but then the execution just didn’t quite work. This one I think lives up to it, in fact the direction and performances are the two strong points, as the story is actually pretty simple.

  7. Oh wow, high praise for this one! Really looking forward to seeing it now. Like you, I am a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen — he was pretty much the only reason to sit through Valhalla Rising, and of course, he was great in Casino Royale (Pusher, too!).

  8. A stunning movie which I saw a couple of months ago during a film festival, great performance by Mikkelsen. Two weeks ago I watched the documentary “Witch Hunt”, which is about something like this actually happening to a lot of people in a small town. The sad thing there was that the people actually got convicted and had to fight their case for years before being released.It talks to those wrongly convicted, but also the children (who are now adults) talk about how the police questioned them and the impact it has had on their lives.

    1. That’s cool that you saw this at a film fest too. It never made it to the theaters here I think, which is a shame. That is so scary about the witch hunt thing, oh man, that’s got to be traumatic to be accused unfairly like that. I guess it’s similar to being accused for terrorism these days.

  9. Good review! The Hunt is indeed well-acted, and yes, we are fully immersed in Lucas’ plight. I think anybody watching the film would think twice about looking for work at a school or kintergarden! From one day to the next a teacher’s reputation could be tarnished, if they are wrongly accused, or a student has a grudge. Made it into my top 10 of 2012.

    1. Ahah you’re right, I was thinking the same thing about working at a Kindergarten school, especially if you’re a guy. I think Mads’ performance would make my top 10 of the year too!

  10. The film is not violent nor gory, which goes to show that an adept director could effectively gives us the chills without ‘indulging’ in blood and gore. << reminds me of Funny Games 😉

    Is it already in DVD? I would love to see this! Great review btw.

    1. Ahah, you are adamant that I see Funny Games don’t you? Well that’s good that it not violent and gory, I’m more inclined to see it. This one should already be in DVD since it’s been out in Europe for a while. I can’t recommend it enough Nov.

  11. Wonderful review! I loved Mikkelsen’s performances in After the Wedding and Casino Royale, so I’m looking forward to seeing his work in this film.

    1. I REALLY need to see After the Wedding, esp since Susan Bier directed it. I’m impressed that Mads is able to balance indies and big Hollywood movies in his career right now.

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