THE HUNTER is a frustrating film. Although there are morsels to savour in Daniel Nettheim’s nature drama, particularly the location and the cinematography that takes advantage of it, the film never really comes together into a satisfying or cohesive whole. Although not without merit, more damningly, it doesn’t achieve an overly interesting near miss.
Willem Dafoe assumes the role of mercenary-cum-hunter Martin David, hired by the obligatory shady corporate types to hunt down what they think is the last Tasmanian Tiger – a creature thought extinct since the 1930s – and bring back samples of the animal. Once in Tasmania he boards with the Armstrong family (whose father disappeared in the wilderness several months ago on a similar mission) under the guise of being a researcher from “the University”. Against the backdrop of logging worker antagonism (“We don’t like greenies round here”) and a suspicion of being followed and competing hunters, Martin finds himself caught between a growing affection for the family and completing his wilderness-bound task.
The location of THE HUNTER is simply stunning, and the cinematography of Robert Humphreys does an excellent job of capturing this landscape in different states
The location of THE HUNTER is simply stunning, and the cinematography of Robert Humphreys does an excellent job of capturing this landscape in different states, from the warm and vivid to the cold and crepuscular. In particular, the climax in a foggy and snowy valley brings a delightful aesthetic purity to what has been a fairly grimy and muddy, if impressive, imagery until then.
Sadly, though, the narrative – or the indecisiveness of it – means there is little to back this up, and great natural visuals do not make for a compelling film on a holistic level.
There is never the sense of isolation and removal that is necessary to characterise that trait of Dafoe’s character, even if there hints and shots that nicely allude to it in the build up. He appears to be forever nipping back and forth due to inconveniences contrived to bring him back into the home of the Armstrong family. I’m not sure how the antagonistic logging workers could perceive him as a ‘greeny’ when he seems to burn enough car fuel to induce climate change all by himself.
…[the film] is incapable of making a decision about it whether it wishes to focus on the mind games between man and nature or the more obviously human drama around the edges
Although Martin is caught between these two worlds, so is the film – and is incapable of making a decision about it whether it wishes to focus on the mind games between man and nature or the more obviously human drama around the edges. In the former it lacks the drama and peril of well-known successes of the genre such as ALIVE or THE EDGE, and doesn’t give enough room to the latter. In terms of addressing both simultaneously through metaphor and parallels, the attempt to do so here are clumsy and it’s perhaps surprising that THE GREY, released in January of this year, did a far better job.
Dafoe does a creditable job in the lead role, Sam Neill is engaging with the little screen time he has and Humphreys’ cinematography does much to get the stunning locale translated to the screen. However, because of how the story unfolds THE HUNTER ends up feeling less like an obsessive hunt for a rare beast, and more like a garden-variety stroll in the park.