Ian Berke, realtor and real estate in San Francisco
Ian's Listings
SF listings
About SF
About Ian
Ian's List
Film Reviews
Stone Books
Legal & Privacy

tel 415.921.7300
cell 415.860.2777

DRE #444020

Film Review

The Hunt

In the 1980's there was a wave of accusations and trials of child sexual abuse, especially in day care settings. It may have begun in 1983 with the now infamous McMartin Preschool case in Southern California, where the mother and son who operated the preschool were accused of abusing 360 (!!) children. There were charges of sodomy, animal killings, satanic rituals, secret underground rooms, and other equally bizarre claims. Ultimately the prosecutor filed 321 counts of child abuse involving 48 children, charging 8 adults. After seven (!!) years of preliminary hearings and trial, all were acquitted except the owner's son. His conviction was overturned on appeal but he had already been jailed for 5 years. The parent who had filed the first complaint was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, and a new prosecuting attorney said that the "evidence was incredibly weak". Years later some of the children confessed to fabricating events to please the adults. The investigators who interviewed the children used highly suggestive techniques that have now been widely discredited, and it was clear that the original prosecuting attorney withheld vital exculpatory evidence from the defense. Subsequent coverage credibly claimed that the misplaced zeal of the prosecutor, the detectives, the district attorney (who was up for re-election), and local media, all combined to create a Salem witch trial atmosphere and invent crimes that never occurred. But this was the beginning of many more cases across the country, and even in England and Europe, that nearly all ended with acquittals but with many ruined lives, especially those who had honorably cared for the children. Psychologists have difficulty explaining how such hysteria could gain such traction, for at least ten years until the 1990's. Several felt that more women entering the work force meant more children in day care, and heightened anxiety and perhaps guilt by the parents using day care made them more vulnerable to suggestion. Clearly, the hysteria in late 17th century Salem was not as distant as we had imagined.

Danish director Thomas Vinterberg wrote the screenplay for "The Hunt", which tells the story of Lucas (well played by Mads Mikkelsen), a popular and respected teacher at a kindergarden in a small town, who is recently divorced and trying to negotiate with his ex for more time with his teenage son. Lucas is a good hunter and a well liked member of a local deer hunting club that loves to drink. The film opens with the guys stripping and jumping into an ice cold lake, carousing, but with dark undercurrents. One day a cute little blonde girl at the school, Klara, is moody, and when asked why by Grethe, the head mistress, she tells Grethe that Lucas has exposed himself to her. The viewers understand why she said that, but Grethe is stunned and immediately assumes that Klara is telling the truth: "They [children] don't lie". She asks another educator for help, who interviews Klara by asking highly suggestive questions and encouraging her to "be a good girl" and repeat what she had told Grethe. Grethe, by now throughly convinced that Lucas is guilty, orders him out of the school, and convenes a parents' meeting where she tells the parents about the accusation and asks them to see if their children have been showing any signs of abuse, such as nightmares, bed wetting, or depression. The accusation spreads immediately through the town, and Lucas is shunned by most of the townspeople, including people who have known him for years. Other children testified that they were molested in his basement, but he doesn't even have a basement. It never occurs to anyone, save one brave level headed friend, that the accusations could be false. Lucas becomes hated, and a target of rocks through his windows, beatings and worse. Some of these scenes are powerful and very upsetting. Even his girl friend seems to question him. Klara's father, his oldest and closest friend, orders Lucas out of his house. The cinematography is very well done, and as the mood darkens, the many outdoor scenes are supplanted by dark indoor scenes, with Vinterberg's signature long closeups of faces. Despite the dramatic events, the film is restrained and understated, which adds to its power. The acting is utterly outstanding and very believable. The child actress playing Klara is extraordinary. The only scene that seems out of character and too dramatic is Lucas's behavior in the church on Christmas Eve. But that said, this is a first rate film about two dark topics: pedophilia and group hysteria. Little question that this film will be the Danish entry to the Academy Awards.

It's interesting that Vinterberg's best known film previously was "The Celebration" (1998) which also dealt with pedophilia. "The Hunt" is a fine film, very powerful, and accomplished. It really does show that Danish inner darkness, that is not necessarily restricted to the Scandinavian countries. The director maintains such tension that I could hardly get out of my seat as the credits rolled. Just opened at the Clay (SF), the Rafael (San Rafael), and the Albany Twin. Running time 111 minutes.

Return to the List of Film Reviews

Home | Ian's Listings | SF listings | Rentals | Architecture | About SF | About Ian |
Ian's List | Legal & Privacy | ian@ianberke.com | © 2009- ianberke.com