Short Reviews: The Hunter (2011)

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Sweeping vistas of forested mountains! Stunning imagery of rivers, roads, snowy peaks, trails! Places I have been to and can recognise!

The Hunter is something of a curio for me, having been shot entirely in my home state. As such, it comes with an added layer of “spot the location” which is always fun to play, but given that the last film I got to do that with was Arctic Blast, it’s a welcome relief to have a movie that’s actually, y’know, good to play it with.

Willem Dafoe plays a shady mercenary named (or codenamed) Martin, hired by a shady organisation to hunt down the last surviving Tasmanian Tiger. Under the pretence of studying Tasmanian Devils for the university (I enjoyed that it’s simply “The” university), he travels to Tasmania to begin the hunt, but not without his fair share of setbacks: the house he’s staying in has no power, the landlady Lucy (Frances O’Connor) is catatonic, her insufferable kids seem to have no boundaries, and to cap it off, he’s mistaken for a Greenie by the local logging community who turn their hostility towards him almost instantly.

After some initial help from a local named Jack (Sam Neill), Martin sets out on his hunt, isolated in the uninhabited mountain range for days at a time, returning to Lucy’s homestead periodically to resupply. Over time, he begins warming up to the kids and helping Lucy recover from her catatonia; warmth develops in their relationship and he starts feeling conflicted between his shady task and the connections he’s made with Lucy and her children. But lest that sound like the beginnings of a rom-com, remember it’s Willem Dafoe we’re talking about – this is the beginning of a very quiet and understated, but solidly effective thriller.

The Hunter is many things – beautifully shot, wonderfully performed (Dafoe’s intensity is captivating, O’Connor’s warmth and determination an absolute comfort), incredibly atmospheric, and very much off the beaten track of your usual thriller. It’s not without its flaws – a shocking turn of events towards the end of the film seems either cruel or shoehorned in (or both) – but it’s put together so well it can overcome its shortcomings.

There is also the added fun/pride in the movie being filmed entirely in Tasmania. Perhaps it’s an insider’s bias, but watching this was almost a tactile sensory experience too – you can practically smell the forests, or what Lucy’s ramshackle-but-intimate house would feel like as you step over the threshold.

But perhaps the biggest surprise is its emotional and atmospheric resonance. One shot in particular (the shot of the movie, if you will) was done so quietly and sensitively that it was absolutely gut wrenching It’s a movie where not much is said, not much really happens – but it’s incredibly moving and thrilling all the same. And that is owed almost entirely to Willem Dafoe continuing his chameleonic career and Frances O’Connor anchoring in juxtaposition to his intensity and knocking it out of the park.

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