The Hunter goes into production in October on the island state of Tasmania and will be the debut feature of director Daniel Nettheim.

Willem Dafoe is returning to Australia to star in the psychological thriller The Hunter, three years after playing a human who became a vampire then a man again in Michael and Peter Spierig’s Daybreakers.

This time around Dafoe plays a mercenary searching for the last Tasmanian Tiger on behalf of a biotech company.

The Tasmanian Tiger, a dog-like animal with stripes across its back hence the name, is believed to have been extinct since the mid 1900s, although occasional unconfirmed sightings always stir up local interest.

The Hunter goes into production in October on the island state of Tasmania and will be directed by Daniel Nettheim.

Vincent Sheehan (Little Fish) is producing for local distributor Madman and sales company E1 Entertainment, whose recent Australian films include Animal Kingdom and South Solitary.

Daybreakers starred another non-Australian actor in Ethan Hawke and grossed $30m in North America this year, making it one of the most successful independently financed Australian films of recent years.

With all the finance for The Hunter coming from the three government film agencies — Screen Australia, Screen NSW and Screen Tasmania — it is not on the scale of the $20m Daybreakers. Nor will there be a vampire in sight.

Alice Addison adapted the script from a novel of the same name by Julia Leigh, who recently finished filming Sleeping Beauty, her own debut feature as a writer/director.

The film is expected to be controversial: Emily Browning plays a university student who earns money by allowing herself to be heavily drugged then spending the night with men in controlled conditions.