The Hunter may not be the typical sort of film that you see us discussing here at Brutal as Hell, as although it treads into thriller territory at times it isn’t technically a genre film. It is however a haunting and memorable film that has an undeniable air of uncanniness about it. Also I really loved it and feel that it was criminally underseen in theatres so I welcome any excuse to recommend it to others.
Based on the novel by Julia Leigh (who wrote and directed Sleeping Beauty) The Hunter stars Willem Dafoe as Martin, a cold-hearted mercenary hired by a mysterious and undeniably dubious pharmaceutical company to travel to Tasmania to follow up on a number of reported sightings of a Tasmanian tiger, which is believed to have been extinct since the 1930s. His orders are to hunt this elusive creature and gather tissue and organ samples. Martin arrives in Tasmania posing as a university professor and is immediately made to feel unwelcome by the hostile local community that is primarily made up of loggers who feel that ‘greenies’ are to blame for them losing their jobs. His position isn’t aided any by the fact this he’s staying with local single mother Lucy (Frances O’Connor), whose missing husband was a noted environmentalist targeted by the locals.
Lucy lives with her two young children, who have renamed themselves Sass and Bike. Sass is a precocious little girl that swears like a sailor and her younger brother Bike is practically mute and likes to draw pictures. They run wild as Lucy stays in bed, presumably doped on prescription meds and pining for her missing husband. Initially Martin is fairly put out by these living conditions; annoying children, no hot water, a broken generator etc. But he is there to do a job, so along with the dubiously motivated local guide Jack (Sam Neill), he heads up into the wilderness to begin his work.
This is a difficult film to discuss without giving too much away. It’s so odd and beautiful, and although at some points it veers into a traditional and slightly predictable the-hunter-becomes- the-hunted narrative, it never loses your attention and will keep you guessing until the end. The two children aside these are a complex bunch of characters with questionable motives and you never know quite what anyone will do next. This is a slow burning thriller that is oftentimes tragic and well worth persevering with as ultimately it pays off and I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear both times that I saw it.
The first feature film of TV director Daniel Nettheim, this is an odd yet assured debut that looks handsome, is very well acted (particularly by Dafoe) and quite unexpected. I knew nothing about this when I caught it recently on a flight but I’m really glad that I did and it will undoubtedly make my top ten of the year. The blu-ray looks fantastic, the otherworldly Tasmanian landscapes practically form a character in their own right, and I’d definitely recommend checking this out if you fancy something a little different.
The Hunter is out now on Region 2 DVD and Blu-ray from Artificial Eye.