An American hitman (Willem Dafoe) is dispatched by a shady biotech company to hunt down the last Tasmanian Tiger in the Australian wilderness. He's billeted with hippie mom Frances O'Connor and her two kids and uses her remote shack as a base for forays into the back of beyond as he closes in on his prey. However, he finds himself drawn to the spirited family and is determined to find out what happened to their father after he disappeared the summer before. Director Daniel Nettheim, adapting Julia Leigh's acclaimed novel, has forged a superlative combination of thriller and psychological drama. Hunt it down now.
The job brief for American mercenary Martin David (Dafoe) couldn't be simpler - track down, kill and extract biological samples from an animal living in the wilds of Tasmania.
Except this isn't Skippy The Bush Kangaroo. It's a Tasmanian Tiger, a sort of cross between a zebra and a wolf, which hasn't been in captivity since the 1930s and many believe to be extinct.
David, a determined loner and teetotaller, heads to the vast emptiness and is accommodated by despondent mom Lucy (O'Connor), an earth mother living with her two seemingly feral kids Sass (Davies) and Bike (Woodlock).
Popping pills, she's anxiously waiting for news about her environmentalist husband, who headed out into the wilderness the summer before...and hasn't been seen since.
The taciturn hunter, who uses her ramshackle pile as his base for trips up into the mountains, becomes intrigued by the sassy kids - particularly Bike - and sets about weaning Lucy out of her drug-induced oblivion.
At the same time, there's a standoff pregnant with violence between ecology groups, including Lucy, and redneck loggers whose jobs are threatened by proposed environmental controls.
This looks like it's shaping up into something like Bear Grylls in Deliverance country when it morphs into something far more powerful and poignant.
Dafoe - with a believable display of survivalist toughness - convincingly conveys the practical side of his craft - setting traps and stalking his prey while keeping a weather eye on the less trustworthy around him (Sam Neill's jealous guide for starters).
But he's equally strong in the domestic scenes with O'Connor's kids, drawn to the mute Bike while his tentative paternalism grows ever stronger as it becomes apparent how desperate his shady employers are to get to the tiger.
The wintry climax exerts a steely grip in a thriller that avoids easy options and is all the more powerful for it.