Movies aren’t just a tough business. It’s tough that they are a business in the first place. Much like books in the world of publishing, most movies that see the light of day emerge from a well-oiled assembly line. They aren’t expected to be made on an artistic whim, enjoyed as they are created. Studios put out a certain number of movies each year, hoping audiences will watch each one with just as much enthusiasm. What’s more, audiences expect consistent perfection in creativity and entertainment value. Several times a year.
To make this overwhelming balancing act somewhat easier in the ongoing search for more revenue, most movies that make it to the screen have conventions. They regularly stick to a three-act structure of introduction, complication, and conclusion, and one could argue that the same handful of movies is made over and over again, sticking to loose genre formulas.
The audience inherently knows this and goes into a movie with expectations. Nevertheless, this is a tightrope walk. Conventions are simultaneously comfort zones, guides, and disappointments. If a movie is bad, the conventions are uninspired. If it’s good, they’re paying homage.
Therefore, it’s always the combination of elements in a movie that counts—using what we’ve seen a million times to thrill us over and over again, one more time. And when a combination pays off, does it ever. It stays with us and resonates in our lives, even as our insatiable appetites move on to new stories.
The Hunter is one of those movies. Sure, it’s a comparatively small production, but I’m writing about it because of how unabashedly it seems to use movie conventions as chords to truly come together and resonate. It being a recent movie makes this all the more important to consider, since the field of the possibility is by default narrower. As an adaptation of a novel of the same name, it is both a worthy companion piece and its own story.
When I first heard The Hunter was in production, I was thrilled about its juxtaposition of ideas. “A movie about the Tasmanian tiger with Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, and Frances O’Connor? That’s awesome!” Every time I watch it, I am further captivated by the atmosphere brought about by the movie’s combination of genres and conventions, its homages to homages, and the movie has settled poignantly in my heart. The various elements create a fascinating mosaic, one main idea given meaning and identity through, and augmented by, all the other ideas supporting it.
If you haven’t seen The Hunter, it follows a mercenary calling himself Martin David, sent to Tasmania by a mysterious biotech company called Red Leaf to kill what could be the last Tasmanian tiger, officially known as the thylacine. While staying with a woman named Lucy and her children, Sass and Bike, Martin’s humanity is rekindled within him. No, that’s not a spoiler, that’s just the premise that everything else develops around.
There are 7 conventions in this movie in particular that, for me, come together to truly resonate.
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This article was first posted on May 30, 2013