Julia Leigh

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Couple of movies I’ve Netflixed recently:

Grabbers is an Irish horror-comedy from a couple of years back. A remote island – so remote it’s only got one pub – is under attack by tentacled alien monsters, and the only hope the motley and rather dishevelled locals have of surviving the stormy night is getting drunk and staying that way. Sounds ridiculous, and it is, but I thought the movie did a remarkably good job of selling the bonkers premise, thanks to a decent script that doesn’t try to get too clever, some good actors and special effects (i.e. monsters) that are jolly respectable given the miserly budget I assume everyone was working with.

For the first half of the movie the humour’s fairly gentle, the pace quite measured and the atmosphere one of understated disquiet. Not entirely surprising that things get a bit broader and louder in the second half, as the monsters start hamming it up and the alcohol starts flowing in profuse quantities. It’s fun, though. If you fancy something a bit different, a pleasant way of passing a little time, you could do a lot worse than give Grabbers a try.

It’s better than the following trailer makes it look, if you ask me.

The Hunter is based on one of my favourite books. Always a bit of a lottery, that kind of situation. The novel, by Julia Leigh, is a strange, sparse, haunting story about a man hunting the last Tasmanian Tiger in the world. It’s a powerful evocation of not only natural but also spiritual, psychological wildernesses, all the more impressive for being a very short book, written in very simple, stripped down prose.

So did this story I so like survive translation to the screen? Kind of. Bits of it did. Tasmania is beautiful and wild. Willem Dafoe’s watchable as ever in the title role. The mood is – for most of the film – a very effective replication of the book: quiet, sometimes tense, with a steady undercurrent of otherness and wrongness. It never feels as though anything good can come of what’s going on, and sure enough it doesn’t.

They changed the climax. I knew they would. The book has an uncompromising, challenging last quarter that makes irrefutable sense in terms of what has gone before. The movie keeps bits of it, and bits of its bleak inevitability, but tweaks them and re-interprets them and changes some other bits radically. I didn’t find the end result as satisfying as the book’s ending – it feels as though the film-makers found a way to compromise and complicate what was previously uncompromised and uncomplicated in its hard-edged simplicity – but for all I know it might work perfectly well if you haven’t read the original novel.

Anyway, on the whole The Hunter is a good and effective adaptation of a terrific, and very unusual, book. Worth a try if you’re in the mood for something bleak and thoughtful with a powerful dose of spectacular scenery and trackless wilderness. Maybe read the book afterwards, though. That’s the real deal.

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Three years ago, almost to the day, I posted here about my favourite extinct animal.  There’s a tiny, tiny chance it’s not in fact extinct, which is why it’s the focus of ongoing cryptozoological hope.

The romantic appeal of the thylacine, for me, is founded on two things.  One, that haunting film of what was quite possibly the very last surviving individual of the species; living out its final, humbled days in a zoo after every other example of its kind had been hounded into non-existence by us humans:

Two, the notion – fostered by numerous and continuing, if not very convincing, sighting reports – that there are still thylacines out there in the wilds of Tasmania. Clinging to a secret existence. I don’t really believe it, but I want to.

All of which brings me to this movie, which has apparently been out on dvd for a while but which I didn’t even know existed until I stumbled across the trailer:

It looks kind of appealing: moody, atmospheric, nice landscapes. It’s got a 70% score on rotten tomatoes, which suggests it might be worth a watch. (Don’t suppose by any remote chance anyone’s seen it and can tell me whether it’s worth renting?)

The reason I was so interested to discover the movie, though, is that a few years back I read the book on which it’s based.  I can’t speak to the quality of the film, but the book … I loved it.  Wonderful.

I don’t read all that much mainstream, literary fiction these days, but The Hunter by Julia Leigh is high on my list of personal favourite novels of that sort, certainly those I’ve read in the last decade. It’s hypnotically simple, sparse, bleak and compelling. It helps, of course, if you’re into wilderness and wild animals – for long stretches it’s about one man, alone in the mountains, on the trail of the rarest animal in the world – but it’s principally about people.

When I read it, I was overwhlemingly reminded of Ernest Hemingway by the simplicity and clarity of the prose. I found it much more absorbing and subtly complex than anything of Hemingway’s I’ve read, though. (Except perhaps The Old Man and the Sea). It’s utterly unlike the vast majority of mainstream fictions. I suppose you could even make a case for it being speculative fiction of a sort, since it is built around a counterfactual assumption: that the thylacine is not in fact extinct.

Either way, I’d highly recommend it, for anyone who wants to see how thematically and atmospherically rich a tapestry a skilled author can weave, in relatively few pages, from simple words.  Like I said, it’s wonderful if you ask me.  Julia Leigh, as best I can tell, has only written one other book since – one that hasn’t received the same acclaim – but honestly, if I’d written The Hunter, I’d be happy to rest on those laurels.  It’s that good.

If you only read one mainstream novel in 2013, I suggest you make it this one.  It’s short, so even if you don’t like it, what have you got to lose?  I’ve already decided one of my New Year’s resolutions – my only one, in all likelihood, because I don’t really believe in them – is to re-read it.

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