The Hunt (2012)
As much as I love Mads Mikkelsen as an actor, some might still feel that this film was still inevitably going to be one I disliked. Many may remember my review for "Monsieur Lazhar" where I ranted and raved since the main message seemed to be "you should let teachers put their hands on children and to hell with child protection safeguards".
So here's a film about a teacher who is wrongly accused of child abuse at a primary school. Mads Mikkelsen is great and I don't know that it's really the film that I should be getting angry with here. The primary school basically makes every mistake they could possibly make in handling suspicions of abuse. Though it might also be argued that it was unrealistic that a school would fail so spectacularly in following child protection procedures, particularly when they specifically inform the parents that they must stick to procedures.
Here's the mistakes that were made. Firstly the young girl kisses the teacher. He's quick to inform her that this is only for parents and that she shouldn't kiss him, but he doesn't inform anyone about this incident and there's never any suggestion that he should have reported this behaviour from the child.
The child also gives him a gift and he suggests that she should give it to another child in the school instead. Neither of these incidents happening that day is discussed or reported.
Later the child makes some statements which sound odd and suggest that foul play might be involved. The teacher takes this seriously as well she should. However, she does not appear to write a statement of precisely what was said to her. It is vital when noticing any telltale signs of abuse that anything seen or said is written down as accurately as possible. There should be a reliable record and that should be sent on to the relevant authorities.
Next a man, who seems to be more like a friend of the headteacher rather than a child protection official, asks the girl what she said. The girl didn't actually mean to accuse Mads Mikkelsen's character of anything. There's a misunderstanding from the very beginning, but here she is asked questions that she doesn't really understand. All she knows is that she is missing out on play time. So what does she do when she is asked questions? She nods.
One of the most important rules when dealing with child protection issues is to never ask leading questions or to name names. The accusation must come from the victim as must the details of the incident. The person listening to the details should not try to fill in the blanks. And certainly anyone with the least bit of child protection training should have noticed that the child was nodding at everything and not actually providing any details at all. (Of course if they'd written a proper report in the first place, the adults in charge wouldn't feel it was anything like so urgent to get the child to repeat what they believe were her previous claims.
Finally instead of asking whether there'd been any odd changes in behaviour at home, the headteacher announces to the parents that there had been accusations of abuse in the school and that their daughter was a victim. Of course, with Mads Mikkelsen's character being told not to come to work, it was not hard for people to work out that he was the teacher under suspicion.
Not only that, but he has a fair while of being mistreated by various members of his close-knit community before the police get involved at all, including getting beaten up unprovoked by the security guard at his local supermarket.
There's a theme of characters asking whether a child would ever lie, which is odd since the child in the movie doesn't ever lie at all really. I had trouble going along with the film because it felt so unrealistic that a school would be so ridiculously ignorant of basic child protection rules. And I didn't really feel like the film had much of a message.
The basic gist seemed to be that if you work with children you better make sure you report any odd behaviour immediately because otherwise the school could end up letting you down badly. Except that aspect of the story was given barely any attention at all.
I looked up some information about the film to check whether it was based closely on a real event. Perhaps I was being unfair? well, it turns out that in actual fact the story has been constructed to tell a story. It's based on some stories from the past, but "The Hunt" is bang up to date, so it doesn't share the same details, so it feels anachronistic as a result. Seemingly showing an overly naive approach to child protection on the one hand and yet showing a modern setting where the existence of child protection procedures is acknowledged even though none of them seem to be followed.
So what was the REAL intended message of the filmmakers? Well thankfully it's not like "Monsieur Lazhar"'s message that school rules are just the work of distrusting overprotective killjoys who selfishly want to limit the affection that can shown by teachers. On the other hand I was right to notice the whole theme of "would a child ever lie". It's a bizarre focus considering that the child in the movie isn't ever shown to lie. I suppose what the director refers to as "lying" is actually her decision to nod in response to questions where 'yes' would not be the right answer.
"I was fascinated by the fantasy of children. There is this strange convention that children don't lie, but they do. We even encourage them to lie and that is so interesting to me."
Personally I thought the message of the film fell rather flat and I'd have rather the writer had done some better research on how children protection procedures actually work. Also, the film as a whole seems a little directionless and plodding. Still, the performances were fantastic and Mads Mikkelsen is as awesome as ever. The relationships between the characters were well-handled, particularly the relationship between the protagonist and his own son. There are a variety of well-handled characters and there's a clear sense that this filmmaker is capable of better things. The central child actor's role in the film is particularly well handled and I hope she gets more similarly demanding roles in the future.
While I'm slowly cross-posting my reviews of The Omen and Child's Play series from Halloween Candy, I'm still posting new horror reviews in that community. Most recently you can find the following horror reviews. Click on the titles below to see the reviews:
"Exit Humanity" - A zombie movie set in the southern states of America at the end of the American civil war.
"Stitches" - An Irish zombie comedy about an evil clown starring Ross Noble.
"Texas Chainsaw" - The latest attempt to breathe new life into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.
"Warm Bodies", "Return of the Living Dead Part II", "Return of the Living Dead Part III" - Three horror comedies with zombies.