There are two movies occurring simultaneously in the Aussie not-quite-thriller The Hunter. One is a Herzogian plunge into nature, with a mysterious mercenary (Willem Dafoe, reliably haunted) methodically tracking a rare animal through thick forest. The other is a (mostly) routine drama where a curmudgeonly loner (also Dafoe) slowly learns to tolerate others thanks to the persistent persnicketiness of a pair of obtrusive children. (Sam Neill, who once performed this very jig in Jurassic Park, even periodically swings by to see how Dafoe is faring.) One storyline routinely and rudely interrupts the other, and it will depend on the particular moviegoer to determine which they’d rather be watching.
At the very least, all can agree the thread where Dafoe slowly prowls through wilderness is the less familiar. On a vague an ominous-sounding assignment from a pharmaceutical company, Dafoe’s Martin David heads to Tasmania to track and procure the allegedly extinct Tasmanian tiger. Scene after scene finds Martin by himself, wordless and accompanied only by the White Noise Box din of Mother Nature, as he calmly stalks about, sets up traps and breaks out his weaponry. One exposition-free block of cuts finds him shooting an animal, ripping out its entrails against a tree, tossing the carcass and attaching its organs to sticks as bait.
Even with Martin’s micro-actions, a palpable mood is cast. Alas, Martin has to eat and sleep, and routinely retreats to his rented room in a rural house overrun by a depressed single mom (Frances O’Connor) and her young spawn Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock). While Bike is mute, Davies gabs incessantly. Davies periodically brightened the wan thumb-twiddler The Tree , and works similar magic here, her work both softening the blow of an annoying storyline and providing humor in a film that without her could have been humorless.
There’s actually a third movie in The Hunter, namely a conspiracy-cum-cover-up that starts out hazy but never convinces even as it becomes better defined. The three elements never coalesce, particularly thanks to a brief length that necessitates a rushed conclusion. But should some minimalist—Chantal Akerman, perhaps?—want to make a movie where a brooding Willem Dafoe skulks about a forest for hours, at least one viewer will be game.
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