If you’ve ever seen Bugs Bunny cartoons, then you’re probably familiar with the idea of the Tasmanian devil, although you might not have realized that it’s a real thing. It’s also called the Tasmanian tiger, and it’s a sleek cat with a striped back that is apparently a pretty vicious killer. Unfortunately, though, they’re believed to be extinct.
But maybe not. The biotech company Red Leaf has reason to believe that there’s at least one still alive and roaming about the Tasmanian wilderness, and they also believe that there’s something special about its DNA that could be extremely valuable to them if they were able to obtain a sample to study. It’s also something that could be extremely valuable to their competitors, so if they can’t get it for themselves, then they want to ensure that no one else gets it either. And that’s why they’ve called in expert hunter Martin David (played by Willem Dafoe) to track down the devil if it exists, get blood and tissue samples, and then destroy the animal to keep it out of the hands of their competitors. There’s a lot of money on the line, so they’re willing to take a very relaxed approach to things like laws and ethics.
Martin made his way to Tasmania under the guise of a biologist who intends to conduct research in the vast wilderness where they have all kinds of exotic creatures that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet. His contact put him in touch with Jacky Mindy (played by Sam Neill) to act as a guide, and Sam directed him to a cabin where he could rent a room for the duration of his trip. Martin quickly learned that this wasn’t going to be a luxurious trip, with amenities like electricity and hot water hard to come by, and locals not exactly rolling out the red carpet for visitors. There’s a battle going on between loggers and environmentalists, so everyone is just a little bit more on edge than normal.
The marketing material for this film was (probably intentionally) reminiscent of the recent Liam Neeson film The Grey, but the content was quite different. For one thing, The Grey was an exciting thriller with lots of action and suspense, while The Hunter was much slower, less exciting, and more predictable. Dafoe’s character spends more time babysitting than he does hunting, but even the scenes in which he’s out in the wilderness leave something to be desired. There’s more “waiting for something to happen” in the film than I would like, which I’m sure is what hunting is really like but doesn’t make for a very riveting movie.
It’s also hard to get excited about much that happens during the film. The audience has more knowledge about what’s going on than Martin does, so when something happens which he doesn’t expect, it’s less a surprise for us, and it’s harder to sympathize with him. I suppose that it’s kind of fitting that the film has an unsatisfying ending, because everything else in the movie is so low-key that it’s not as much of a let-down as it might have otherwise been.