The Hunter (dir. Daniel Nettheim, cert. 15) takes us to one of the world’s wildernesses – the central plateau of Tasmania. Here be Tasmanian Devils, the largest carnivorous marsupial, and they provide the cover story for a search for the Tasmanian Tiger, which, until it became extinct, was the largest.
Rumours are spreading that one has been seen alive, and Martin David (Willem Dafoe) is sent by a shadowy biotech company to find one and bring it back, or at least some DNA. Others will be looking.
It’s a bit unclear whether Martin is a big game hunter or a more general mercenary who’ll do anything for money. The weapons he carries would bring down a dinosaur.
For a base camp he’s sent, perhaps oddly, to the remote cabin occupied by Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor) and her children Bike (Finn Woodlock) and Free (Jamie Timony). Lucy’s husband is missing, and it seems he knows a bit about the stories – his son Free, who seems traumatised into silence, draws for Martin a crayon picture of a tiger, with clues as to where to look.
Lucy – when she recovers from a heavy dosage of sleeping pills – is involved with trying to protect the environment, so there’s local opposition from those with jobs in logging, who call anyone with an interest in conservation “greenies”. Martin, needless to say, is hard to intimidate.
Jack Mindy (Sam Neill) seems to have a foot in both camps, and the scene is set for a bit of mystery, a sense of threat, and a mixed reaction from Martin to his hosts (especially the children whose lack of inhibition causes him problems). The location means it looks a bit like Crocodile Dundee 2 without the jokes.
Capturing the creepy feel of Julia Leigh’s original 1999 novel is a feat, and the landscape itself lends a hand. This is not desperately hostile territory, but it doesn’t look friendly either.
Archive footage of a captive tiger in 1932 adds to the sense of a lost world, and it seems that Martin too is captivated by the prospect of finding one alive. Losing his disinterestedness could be at odds with the interests of his paymasters, and they would readily line someone up to replace him, one way or another.
One way would mean his hosts at his base cabin could be at risk, and, whatever Martin has done before in his life, he now has an involvement that prejudices his day job – a bit like the relationship between hitman Jean Reno and a young Natalie Portman in Léon (1994). This even puts a question over what he might do if he found what he was looking for.
For the answer, you’ll need to find the film – in London that may not be a problem, but otherwise it’s the arthouse circuit. What else can you expect when the multiplexes are full of a Spiderman remake?