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SXSW 2012 Review: THE HUNTER

Joshua Brunsting

March 12th, 2012

Apparently 2012 is the year of the isolated killer.

First, January saw the release of the shockingly powerful Joe Carnahan film THE GREY, and now it’s Willem Dafoe’s turn to brood and battle the outdoors in the Tasmanian indie drama, THE HUNTER.

Think of it more as THE AMERICAN set in the Tasmanian wilderness, HUNTER follows the story of a loner contract hunter sent to Tasmania by a conglomerate with the hopes of finding what is rumored to be the last surviving Tasmanian Tiger, an animal that has long been thought to be extinct.  Also a startling look into the politics that plague the environmental movement in Tasmania, THE HUNTER is a broodingly beautiful meditation on man vs. beast, whatever entity that may be.

Willem Dafoe stars here as our lead, and is utterly fantastic.  The best he’s been since ANTICHRIST, his ability to imbue this character with such a startling sense of truth and brutal honesty is something really remarkable.  Able to connect with the family his character begins to live with without bringing on any sense of sentimentality adds a deep layer of realism to the relationship, making their connection both palpable and also intensely rewarding.

Joining Dafoe is Sam Neill, an actor who is both great here, but sadly underused, giving a performance that is equal parts tonally polarizing and also genuinely effective.  Frances O’Connor plays Lucy Armstrong, the wife of a missing, but thought dead, scientist who had a similar goal when he vanished in the wilderness.  Their chemistry is fantastic, a wonderful combination of mutual attraction, but also mutual respect for each person’s given situation in their lives.  Dafoe’s hunter, Martin David, truly grows to care about these three, without ever pushing any sort of boundaries, giving an equally cautious sense of respect to both nature, and his newly found home.

Visually, director Daniel Netteheim is at the top of his game. The film is very much a meditative look into this man’s life, and the style is really fitting of that descriptor.  Desolate frame after desolate frame, the film’s muted color palette both adds to the film’s realism, as well as its sense of impending doom and pure dread.  Not a bright film, nature is the true star here, playing as a beacon of doom for all of those involved.

The film isn’t without flaw, however.  The comparisons to films like THE AMERICAN and THE GREY are both fitting and a tad reductionist, but the two previously mentioned films are both far more intellectually stimulating than this oddly superficial bit of filmmaking.  Yes, an allegory for the fight between the “greeners” (environmentalists) and the loggers of Tasmania, the film doesn’t touch on that battle other than to use as a hamfisted way to further the narrative.  Slightly over long and awfully paced, time spans rather oddly within this universe, the film works as a heavy bit of drama, but not all that much more.

Overall, THE HUNTER is unlike much you’ll see this year.  Currently available on VOD, the film is perfect for the medium, and is one of the most visually striking bits of filmmaking that has hit Austin this SXSW.  Flawed, but devastating, this film.

Grade: B

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