Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Review - Van Diemen’s Land (2009 - Dir. Jonathan auf der Heide)

This is a gloomy, tense depiction of the infamous Australian convict Alexander Pearce’s escape into the Tasmanian wilderness with his gang of convict buddies. Based on a true story, it doesn’t take long before the guys realise there is no food in this harsh and challenging environment and they must survive through cannibalism. Don’t expect any empathy or justification for their actions like the Andes plane crash film Alive, this is an altogether more brutal tale of the survival of the fittest.

I was expecting something akin to those Ray Mears reconstructions when I purchased this DVD. The ones where hapless tourists find themselves lost in the woods and have to dig up roots and filter the goodness out of bear droppings to survive. Van Dieman’s Land is no fluffy tail of bush-craft however. This is a dark, claustrophobic piece of Australian cinema with a tangible sense of fear running through every frame.

The soundtrack is stark and droning, the imagery is shadowy and oppressive, and the characters are dehumanised by the dirt, the cold and big bushy beards that make then difficult to differentiate. The most disturbing part of the film however, is when they decide to kill an unlucky member of the gang to form the basis of their next non-vegetarian friendly stew. This is invariably carried out by sneaking up behind the unfortunate comrade and whacking them with a sickening blow from the back of an axe. The accompanying sound effects and body convulsions are some of the most shocking scenes I’ve witnessed recently outside of Antichrist. It’s not pleasant, but after this the scenes of stew munching seem tame by comparison, although I doubt Linda McCartney would agree.

It’s another grueller to sit through and would seriously benefit from some humour, hope or even someone doing magic tricks or juggling. There is nothing positive on show for humanity in Van Diemen’s Land, only a selfish and steadfast will to survive. Maybe evlkeith will love the copious tracking shots of dense forest and undergrowth, but for me the film was a soulless piece of historical grit that depressed rather than inspired.

Maybe they should do a remake with Ben Fogle, Ray Mears and Bear Grylls to lighten the mood?


If you like this you could also try:
Alive, Cannibal Apocalypse, Cannibal Holocaust.

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