In a small Danish village where everyone knows each other and deer hunting is practically a way of life, a rumor spreads like a virus: Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), the town’s beloved kindergarten teacher, sexually molested one of his students, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). The accusation is shocking, unbelievable. But it still takes hold, because young children never lie, and Klara was specific about what Lucas did to her.
Except the viewer knows what really happened — a simple misunderstanding by a little girl who meant no malice. There’s never a question that Lucas is innocent: Director Thomas Vinterberg ( The Celebration) isn’t interested in the subject of pedophilia. The Hunt is really about mob rule and the dangers of snap judgments and quick decisions people sometimes make when a child is involved. Lucas is in the middle of a custody battle with his ex-wife over their teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom), who never once doubts his father. He, too, becomes a target of the community’s growing wrath as more kids start to come forward, claiming Lucas molested them too. Even Lucas’ girlfriend begins to doubt him. And because he lives in a town where everyone owns a rifle and knows how to use it, his life is soon in danger.
Mikkelsen, who often plays villains in Hollywood (he antagonized James Bond in Casino Royale and currently stars as the cunning cannibal of TV’s Hannibal), is excellent as the courageous man who refuses to give in to the mounting pressure, even after his oldest, dearest friends have deserted him. He has faith in his neighbors and believes the truth will eventually win out — how could it not? — and even when he is assaulted at a grocery story by its employees and thrown out onto the sidewalk, bloodied and bruised, he picks himself up and goes back inside to finish his shopping. The film reaches its intense peak on Christmas Eve, when good will toward your fellow man is at its highest. The Hunt is an exploration of small-town mores and a man’s belief he will be exonerated by his peers, because he knows he did nothing wrong. But will he ever be able to truly wash away the stain?