Big-screen horror usually involves stomach-turning amounts of blood and gore, much of it resulting from paranormal invasions into ordinary life. Even when applied with skill, the chills of contemporary horror tend to cast other-worldly shadows.
A different and far more unsettling form of horror derives from events that unfold without the presence of demonic forces. We’re talking about the kind of nightmares that result from recognizable behavior.
R for sexual content including a graphic image, violence and language
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
The Hunt — a Danish movie from director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) — is one such movie, a serious and powerful demonstration of what can happen when a man is falsely accused of child molestation.
Focusing on a kindergarten teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) in a small Danish town, Vinterberg tells a story in which a lie told by a child threatens to ruin the lives of the teacher and his teen-age son.
The Hunt can’t be classified as a thriller because there’s never any question about the teacher’s innocence. Rather, The Hunt shows how the town’s residents — fueled by righteous indignation — quickly turn against a friend and neighbor.
Mikkelsen has appeared in mainstream cinematic efforts such as Quantum of Solace and in last year’s A Royal Affair. Here, he plays a bespectacled teacher who looks more like Clark Kent than Henry Cavill, the actor who portrayed Superman in the recently released Man of Steel.
Mikkelsen’s Lucas has been teaching in a kindergarten because the high school where he taught closed. Before he becomes the object of the town’s scorn, he enjoys hearty friendships with the men of the town, who like to hunt and drink. They’re a beefy crowd, guys who revel in a the kind of camaraderie that involves taking verbal jabs at one another.
Lucas also is fighting with his ex-wife about the amount of time he’s allowed to spend with Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom), his teen-age son. He’d like the boy to live with him, something Marcus also wants.
What’s frightening about Lucas’s story is the way in which he becomes isolated. Even a new girlfriend (Alexandra Rapaport) expresses a bit of doubt about him.
In the absence of proof that Lucas molested anyone, the case comes down to Lucas’s word against the word of an angelic looking schoolgirl (Annika Wedderkopp). Wedderkopp’s Klara acts out a childish and vengeful game, prompted by a pornographic image her older brother briefly (and thoughtlessly) showed her.
I don’t know whether Vinterberg was inspired by the current tendency to put children on a pedestal, but the town’s people and, more importantly Lucas’s boss at the school, tend to believe the girl’s story. Children don’t lie, the principal insists.
The head of the school doesn’t simply investigate, which she’s obligated to do. She and others connect the dots in a story that Klara not only invents but later recants.
To add to the complexity of the situation, Klara is the daughter of Lucas’s best friend (Thomas Bo Larsen).
The Hunt takes a harrowing look at small town dynamics that threaten to turn a good man into a pariah. To me, that’s far more terrifying than most of the demons that haunt today’s multiplex screens. What’s frightening about Lucas’s plight is that it’s an all-too-possible ordeal.