Film review – The Hunter (2011)

24 October 2011
The Hunter: Martin (Willem Dafoe)

Martin (Willem Dafoe)

The location is the Tasmanian wilderness, the target is the last Tasmanian Tiger and the hunter is Martin (Willem Dafoe), a mercenary hired by a mysterious biotech company. Adapted from the 1999 novel by Julia Leigh, the writer/director of Sleeping Beauty, The Hunter is one part existential meditation on the male psyche and one part metaphor for the damage humanity has done to the natural world.

In the background of the film is the conflict between protesting environmentalists and loggers angry about losing their jobs. While the film does represent the loggers as intimidating, they are ultimately harmless compared to the ruthless corporate interests manipulating affairs from afar.

The Hunter works best when it resembles a Werner Herzog film, with Martin alone in the wild obsessively trying to complete his mission. Less successful are the scenes where Martin gradually becomes a surrogate father and husband to the family he stays with. A couple of jarring shifts in tone distract from what is otherwise a slow burning film about a man at war with himself and his prey.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 391, 2010

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – Daybreakers (2009)

14 February 2010

Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) and Lionel 'Elvis' Cormac (Willem Dafoe)

After the marvellous 2003 Australian zombie/science-fiction film Undead, the Queensland filmmaking brothers Michael and Peter Spierig have now written and directed the Australian/USA co-production Daybreakers. Set in 2019, Daybreakers presents a future where the vampires have won and now populate the Earth. As the blood supply begins to run dry, the human-friendly vampire researcher Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), who is searching for a blood substitute, falls in with a gang of renegade humans.

The techno-gothic world of Daybreakers merges classic vampire mythology with advanced technology and corporate culture in a way not too dissimilar to the Blade films and the Angel television series. Daybreakers is nevertheless highly inventive, containing plenty of interesting and original ideas about vampire technology, vampire physiology and the sociological implications of a vampire world.

Unfortunately weak dialogue and plotting drag the film down and not even the strong cast, which includes Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Claudia Karvan, are able to compensate. Attempts at humour fall flat and the over-reliance on CGIs makes the futuristic city setting look artificial. For all its conceptual greatness Daybreakers is ultimately a B-grade film that never quite lives up to its potential.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 347, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Antichrist (2009)

8 December 2009

She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and He (Willem Dafoe)

The Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville) is a true cinematic experimentalist and agent provocateur with Antichirst being the most comprehensive encapsulation of all his ideas and stylistic approaches to date. Antichrist opens with a stunning black-and-white, slow motion prologue where the film’s leads, known simply as He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), make love in the shower while their unattended child crawls out of his crib, climbs out an open window and falls to his death. Antichrist then unfolds over four chapters where He and She travel to an isolated forest cabin named Eden in order to reconcile their loss. She is consumed with grief, guilt, anxiety and self-loathing, using sex as a masochistic distraction from her pain. He is a therapist so takes it upon himself to heal her by making her confront the source of her deepest fear – the Eden cabin they have gone to where she had previously worked on a thesis about misogynist murder.

Von Trier uses a mixture of visual approaches in Antichrist to maximum effect. To portray the destructive dynamic between He and She von Trier utilises a very raw, handheld-camera filming style. To capture many of the hypnotic outdoor scenes, often filled with images of death in the natural world, von Trier radically uses sound, cinematography and editing to create some of the most beautiful yet nightmarish imagery ever created on screen. The eerie beauty of such scenes contrasts dramatically to the extremely violent brutality that occurs later in the film and very few people will be able to sit through key moments in Antichrist without physically recoiling in horror and disbelief at what they’ve just witnessed.

Von Trier has explored misogyny before and, similarly to David Lynch, he has been accused of being a misogynist as a result. While Antichrist does not contain any single fixed meaning as such, it does depict the misogyny of men who cast women as victims so that they can wield power as authoritative experts. Furthermore, it depicts female self-hatred, which is arguably the most destructive form of misogyny. The self-disgust that She develops towards her own sexuality is represented in Antichrist through its imagery of the natural world as Hell. Functioning as the inverse of the Biblical creation story, Antichrist is the most unique and divisive ‘horror’ film you are ever likely to see.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 343, 2009

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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