In a world where you can basically pinpoint any location on the globe with a simple Google Maps search, it’s captivating to watch a movie that takes place in a modern-day lost world. In all its exquisite beauty and awe-inspiring geographical layout, Tasmania acts as the perfect backdrop for a movie such “The Hunter.” It relies heavily upon the picturesque Tasmanian wilderness, mainly because the mere idea of uncharted territory elicits images of intrigue and mystery.
With that in mind, “The Hunter” is as visually stunning as it is thrilling and cerebral. Based on the critically acclaimed novel of the same name by Julia Leigh, the film itself is a psychological thrill ride with a unique atmospheric quality. Willem Dafoe plays expert mercenary hunter Martin David, who is contracted by Red Leaf Biotech Company to validate reported recent sightings of the Tasmanian Tiger, a creature that has long since been thought of as extinct. Upon his arrival in Tasmania, Martin finds himself under the roof of single mother Lucy Armstrong and her eccentric kids, Sass and Bike.
Martin soon finds himself entangled in a local dispute involving the loggers and environmentalists (also known as ”greenies”), a dispute in which he wishes to stay a neutral party. Martin quickly learns that Lucy’s husband, who is a self-professed “greenie,” went missing in the wilderness some several weeks back. The inexplicable disappearance of her husband has left Lucy in a delirious state of affairs, leaving Martin in the awkward position of taking care of her children.
Amid this bizarre social tension, Martin eventually comes in contact with local guide Jack Mindy (Sam Neill), who has developed an unhealthy obsession with Lucy. The closer Martin becomes with the family, the more Jack intrudes on his work. Martin eventually finds himself torn between his newfound closeness for the Armstrong family and his wavering loyalty to Red Leaf — the events of which climax in a brilliant fashion, pitting Martin against nearly the entire town.
Oh yeah, and there’s a supposed Tasmanian Tiger wrapped up among all this drama to boot, which reminds me of what I enjoyed most about this movie. Despite the plot synopsis, the primary conflict exists between Martin and the locals who don’t take kindly to new folks sneaking around their parts. The search for the elusive beast itself takes a backseat to the various interpersonal conflicts.
My initial intrigue was triggered by archival footage of Tasmanian Tigers used in the trailer. Yet, once I sat down and watched this, I delved deep and was pleasantly surprised with the intricate plot. I was taken aback by the cinematography, greatly aided by the scenery, shot on location entirely in Tasmania. Moreover, the casting was topnotch and included a slew of unknown native actors who stole the show for me.
In particular, the kids who play Sass and Bike are utterly superb. Dafoe is perfectly cast as well. Neill proves once again how perfectly suited he is as a villain. And O’Connor has the tough task of pretending Dafoe isn’t the ugliest man on the planet, a feat she pulls off flawlessly nonetheless.
As special features go, “The Hunter” comes through with some cool bonus perks, albeit nothing out of the ordinary. There’s a making-of feature, a director’s commentary and some deleted scenes.
Due to its limited release, “The Hunter” has flown under some radars. As far as psychological thrillers go, it’s a cut above the rest. There’s nothing particularly new brought to the table, but sometimes it’s just refreshing to see a well-executed thriller with no frills, especially in a genre rife with mediocrity. Dafoe and company are at their proverbial best in this.
Film: 3.5 Yaps
Extras: 3 Yaps