The lost boy of Dogme 95 comes home with this flawed but tense psychological drama.
But The Hunt revisits Festen’s ensemble turf and hot-topic thrust with a confident adult eye, upgrading its histrionics to a cool, calm, crisply acted study of collective hysteria.
At the centre is Casino Royale’s red-eyed baddie Mads Mikkelsen as divorcee and likeable nursery teacher Lucas.
He’s no villain, but his rural Danish community sees one in him when a young girl, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), sets rumours flying with accusations of improprieties.
Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm disarm the did-he-do-it cliché by swiftly asserting Lucas’ innocence and shifting focus to the spread of suspicion.
The finer points of the locals’ leap to demonise Lucas are rushed and fuzzy, true, yet the cast take up the slack: Mikkelsen’s bruised portrait of cornered-animal magnetism (which won him Best Actor at Cannes), bluff best buddy Thomas Bo Larsen and affecting turns from the kids (Wedderkopp and, as Lucas’ son, Lasse Fogelstrøm) nail the panic and paranoia.
They flesh out a precision picture of fragile community bonds, ranging with microscopic focus from male bonding to stand-offs in local hotspots (supermarkets, churches) that bristle with danger.
Aided by the unobtrusively clammy grip of DoP Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s autumnal images, Vinterberg’s directorial restraint makes the few violent eruptions all the more painful to watch. But it’s the suspense that sticks with us.
We see how the fib began, but where will it end?
Vinterberg keeps us guessing right up to and after an end shot that suggests how tough some viral rumours are to shake off.
Vinterberg lands his finest film in over a decade with a taut, teasing study in sense and susceptibility, given ballast by a suitably shaken and shell-shocked lead turn from Mikkelsen.