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Mere months after Julia Leigh made her directorial debut with Sleeping Beauty, director Daniel Nettheim has brought her first novel to the screen. The Hunter shares a certain austerity and opaque internality with Leigh’s film, as Willem Dafoe trades chaotic nature (in Antichrist) for a quest into the wilderness to track the Tasmanian Tiger.
Hired by a biotech company for this seeming mission impossible, Dafoe’s Martin reluctantly arrives to rustic accommodations with the Armstrong family – whose zoologist father is missing – as well as a hostile standoff between greenie protesters and the local logging community.
Dafoe is an effortless mercenary, with his wiry frame and striking features lending a palpable physicality to a largely silent role. His distancing pragmatism is nicely countered by Morgana Davies’s effusive turn as Sass Armstrong, the young daughter and self-appointed welcome wagon who enlists Martin’s help to find her father. Frances O’Connor and Sam Neill both bring fine performances to their relatively underused characters in a story that at times threatens to fizzle out its slow burn.
Though a little more obvious than psychologically thrilling, The Hunter boasts some striking cinematography; it’s just the internal landscape that feels a little lacking.