Thomas Vinterberg, after a slack period, has come back with a picture to match his remarkable drama Festen (1998). Like that film, it centres upon a family man harrowed by a collective insanity – but with a telling difference.
Mads Mikkelsen is superb as Lucas, a well-liked kindergarten teacher in a Danish town who's getting back his life after a divorce and negotiating custody of his teenage son. Then one of his pupils, a five-year-old girl, makes a startling accusation against him, and he suddenly finds himself ostracised by people he believed were his friends.
The initial shock is that it's his word against the child's – and almost everyone chooses to believe the child. The second shock lies in the way the community flies into a frenzy of self-righteousness, without holding a shred of evidence against him. (An implausible touch: at no point do we see a lawyer or even a reporter enter the fray).
The Hunt of the title is essentially a witch hunt, and Vinterberg portrays the group hysteria with a raw intensity that recalls The Crucible. Certain scenes build with a terrible, edge-of-the-seat potency, one at a supermarket where staff take objection to the pariah, another at a Christmas Eve church service where Lucas endures a kind of accelerated mental breakdown.
The acting on all fronts is outstanding, with Mikkelsen holding the centre magnificently as the wronged teacher, his life contaminated by the slow-acting poison of rumour. Twitterati take note.