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Despite moving at a slow pace and sometimes lacking in exposition, Van
Diemen's Land is an impressive film. The story of Alexander Pearce's
escape, along with 7 other convicts is gut-wrenching, especially when
we take into account it is inspired by a true story (to which extent,
we may never know).
As soon as the movie begins, you are hit by jaw-dropping cinematography that definitely takes you in this very different place and time. Silences and sounds are used to good effect and the minimalist score is wonderful yet bleak. The movie does not rely on much dialogue and at times, suffers a little from this
The characters are very life-like, even if they aren't sketched very clearly to start. You learn who these men are and what each is capable of over the course of the movie, which becomes increasingly bleak and permeated with a strange sense of evil. Not a cartoonish Hollywood-like evil but rather, the terrible things men can do and the group dynamics displayed when acts of cruelty are done.
The narration by the character Pearce did not work all that well for me, and the movie felt a tad long to me due to its slow pace but this was an uneasy viewing. The genre listed on IMDb is "thriller" but this felt much more like a very, very gruesome drama. This is a film bordering on horror themes. Do not expect flashy scenes of action and clear cut good guys against bad guys.
Worthwhile, even if somewhat depressing
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jonathan auf der Heide may not be the easiest name to remember, but
make a mental note of it. File it away for future reference, because
this young Tasmanian director has chosen for his first feature film a
story so dark and grim, a tale so horrific, that you will want to keep
a 'watching brief' on his career to see what he follows Van Diemen's
Land up with.
The film first saw light in an early short as Jonathan's Victorian College of the Arts graduation film called, Hell's Gates, which went on to be named Best Student Film at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2008.
Van Diemen's Land, as every adult Australian would know, is the first name given to Tasmania by British authorities during the early years of white settlement. A dreaded penal colony, with a fearsome reputation, Van Diemen's Land saw more than its share of horror and barbarism meted out to the convicts unlucky enough to end up there.
This film, set in 1882, tells the 'true' story of eight convicts who escape from a working party and head out across the Tasmanian wilderness in search of Macquarie Harbour (the Hell's Gates in the title of the original short), where they believe a ship will be waiting to carry them away from the island.
One of the escapees is Alexander Pearce, a Gaelic speaking Irishman. Pearce, was in fact, the only convict to survive the harrowing trek across Tasmania's wild mountainous peaks and valleys, and following his recapture, told a horrifying tale of murder and cannibalism that still echoes and shocks more than a hundred years after the original events took place.
Filmed entirely on location in Tasmania and Victoria's Otway Ranges, the film has a dark foreboding quality about it that doesn't let up across its entire 100 minute length. Almost all of the colour has been leached out of the film leaving almost nothing else but drab olive greens and grays. We never get a glimpse of clear blue, open sky. The air is constantly heavy with rain and damp, and one can only imagine what these convicts from England, Scotland and Ireland must have thought as they set out on foot to cross one of the harshest and most forbidding environments on earth.
The film is hauntingly narrated by Pearce, who peppers his comments with poetical insights into the human psyche that are often as shocking as they are profound.
"I've looked up at God looking down", intones Pearce in his native Gaelic, "He dances with an axe in his hand." Or this: "Let God have his Heaven. I am blood." Van Diemen's Land is a stunning debut feature from one of Australia's newest and youngest directors. If this film is any indication of the quality of writing and directing coming out of our film schools today, it augers very well for the future of the Australian film industry as a whole.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although it felt like a rewarding experience, Van Diemen's Land is not
what you would call an easy watch. The viewer is transported back a
couple of centuries, and plunged into the harsh and untamed Tasmanian
landscape, for a fairly straightforward tale of man v man v the
Despite its' simplicity, it's an affecting tale, helped by the sparse, evocative and apologetic "I'm a quiet man" voice-over that threads its way through the narrative, holding together the otherwise un-holdable. It's very much 'in-your-face' as there's little historical explanation, and only the vaguest sense of any future ahead, which compels you to focus on the here-and-now. The score is haunting, and the film is beautifully shot, with bleached-out greens emphasizing the unforgiving nature of their surroundings and predicament.
The trailer gives a good indication of what to expect, including two of the more iconic sequences that stayed with me long afterwards one scene where the group are running time-lapsed and ghost-like through the forest trying to escape their pursuers, the other the shockingly swift brutality with which the second inmate on the menu meets his maker. Elsewhere, we experience the messy and protracted depiction of how hard it is to kill a man, and as the numbers dwindle whilst the tension and paranoia mounts, individual camp fires become the order of the night, as the lengths men would go to survive become increasingly desperate.
On the downside, I struggled to hear some of the heavily-accented dialogue (especially when the speaker was off screen), and it was hard to believe that there were no other nutritious animals in a rainforest, bar a solitary snake. Given their limited resources, quite how they would have caught them is another matter, but they'd have sure as hell tried, to save from eating each other.
I came out feeling like I'd been badly mauled after 12 rounds in a ring with an enormous and unbeatable foe. It's a real powerhouse of a film that I would most certainly recommend, even though one viewing is quite sufficient for me in this lifetime. 7/10.
Grim. Relentless. Unsettling. Frightening even. This film leaves nobody
sitting comfortably whilst they watch it.
This is 'us' when the thin veneer of being 'civilized' is stripped away. When all that Life has left you is no future, a few rags and a brutalized nature then the consequences can reach unfathomable depths.
I've read some of the negative reviews for this film and can understand it when viewers who watch 'sanitized' Technicolor visions of what are classed as the 'norm' that is their benchmark and they don't like concepts that stray beyond that. But when one has watched unglamourous brutality and emotions in such good, raw films like Saving Private Ryan, Last of the Mohicans, Apocolypta, Fateless and the superb Kokoda, then one can appreciate what this true-life film was trying to achieve.
There are no heroes in this film and no villains, just survivalists. From the uniformed officers and men posted to what seemed a god-forsaken land, to the convicts they had control of, they all had one thing in common the desire not to be there!
I'll not watch this film again for a couple of months as I'd like my senses to be on an even keel next time, but already I'm looking forward to it.
This is based on a true story and although I'm not to fond when movies
come along with tags like that, I really liked this one. It is slow
moving though and I had a bit of trouble following the movie after 20
minutes. Actually I should say, I didn't know where it was moving to
... but this is a good thing!
So as you can imagine, I didn't know the true story behind this movie and if you can, don't read anything the movie or it's origin and just watch it to be surprised. Be prepared though, because not only is it slow moving, there isn't happening that much during the course of the movie. But besides being a weak point (for some), it also can be the highlight for others! I think the movie, wouldn't have worked, if it had been spiced up. I like how it creeps up on you ... So if you haven't watched it yet, either be warned or watch it to be "thrilled" (depending on what you like in a movie).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1882, several convicts escaped custody to brave the harsh conditions
of Van Diemen's Land in Tasmania. One of the escapees throughout the
film is based on the real life convict Alexander Pearce (Oscar
Redding). Journeying into the wilderness, Pearce and seven others were
faced with the sheer ruggedness of the landscape and limited resources.
As some of the men succumbed to injury, the others had no choice but to
slaughter their fellow man and then devour them so they would be able
to continue on and not starve to death. Much of the tension throughout
the film is derived from each man knowing that he is at risk of being
the next person to be killed.
The first feature film from director Jonathan Auf Der Heide is a great technical achievement. The cinematography throughout Van Diemen's Land contains some of the most beautiful shots you are likely to see this year. Many of the films images have a painterly-like quality to them and the use of the saturated colour scheme ensures a highly unique and textured depiction of the outback. One of the most haunting images is also its ugliest though, as a close-up shot captures a British guard munching down on something. It is as though this is foreshadowing the evil we are bound to see throughout the film.
Although one can admire the quality of these aesthetics, the films decision to be as objective as possible works to its detriment. Heide previously made the short film Hell's Gate, which shared the same story about Pearce and his escape, and also starred Oscar Redding. It would seem that Heide has not expanded the story from this short film. This is not a full length biopic about Alexander Pearce, nor is there any intention to detail the lives of the other convicts either. Their psychological wellbeing is rarely explored with any personal insights. It is disappointing that despite the verisimilitude and authenticity towards the look of the film, the characterisation and narrative remain utterly minimal. There is no time dedicated towards any of the characters, leaving the film as a passive experience rather than an emotional one. The performances throughout the film are solid with sporadic dialogue, but we needed to get to know these characters well so that we could care about their struggle more.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating elements that can be taken indirectly from the cannibalism is the subversion of the Australian archetype of mateship. The mythology of the Aussie battler, looking after his mates, evaporates rapidly as men are slaughtered like cattle in their sleep, to ensure the survival of others. The murder scenes are intensely staged throughout the film and feel fitting with the films grittiness. Much of the violence is shown off-screen but the audible screams and slaps of the axe ensure that these moments are gruesomely, rather than emotionally, affecting. The film's most damning death occurs before a blow is landed, as a convict is bitten by a snake, inevitably suggesting that he will not be able to continue and will have to be slaughtered.
Van Diemen's Land is a beautiful film to behold but a lot more work was needed on the screenplay. The lack of depth, development and characterisation certainly diminishes much of the films power and its emotion, while the lack of narrative drive will have many questioning the actual point of the film. Despite this, the intense moments of violence and the lack of morality may still provoke some to question what they would have done under the same strenuous conditions and circumstances.
This feels like a 'Tourism Tasmania' commercial with a touch of
cannibalism, truly a great combination.
The movie is based on the true account of Alexander Pearce, Australia's most notorious convict, and the events that took place in 1822, as Pearce and a group of convicts escape into the Tasmanian wilderness. The group is then left at the mercy of nature, themselves, and notably the human desire to eat.
This is truly a beautiful movie, the cinematography of sweeping landscapes and rugged bushland is worth watching the rental/ticket price alone. It strikes me as the type of DVD they play in appliance stores to show off the new HD-TVs (although they would have to skip the numerous bludgeoning scenes).
The story itself is a simple and tight narrative of the human condition pushed to its limits. While there is some grizzly violence and confronting concepts, the movie never descends into gratuitous visuals based purely on shock value.
While the story is compelling and rolls along nicely, I found myself just wanting a little more depth to all of the supporting characters. This is also one of the main strengths of this film, it makes you want more; I was always wondering what was going to happen next, what's that guy going to do, where are they going, what's around that corner, what does that taste like etc Ultimately this factor leaves the viewer a tad unsatisfied yet appreciative of the movie as a whole.
On the Fruit-Meter, Van Demons Lands gets the "KIWI-FRUIT" - A bit grizzled and rough on the outside, but once you peel off the skin it's fresh and tasty, but it was a small fruit and I want some more.
MART-FLIX PUN-FUN It's compelling to watch convicts battle their inner "demons" ..that sucked
it's based on a true story...the music, cinematography and the acting
was superb..i love this movie, the bleakness, the nature..it's really
interesting to see something darker about human nature.if you want
something fun then this movie isn't for you.the music when the credits
roll...outstanding!i never written a review before nor will it probably
help you in anyway but it justifies that how much i love this movie..
group of transported convicts, suffering brutal treatment at the Sarah Island penal settlement on Van Diemens Land, escape into the Tasmanian wilderness in hopes of reaching the settlements to the east. Their enthusiasm and bravado soon give way to hunger, which saps their strength and causes them to despair. Former urban dwellers, the English, Irish and Scottish convicts realise that not only are they lost, but they do not even know how to hunt or fish. The oppressive nature of landscape becomes the setting for murder, as hunger forces the group to turn to cannibalism, killing and eating the members of the group one by one. The men do all in their power to keep moving, watch their back and avoid sleep, lest they be the next meal
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Wasn't the devil in you when you brought me here?"
'Van Diemen's Land' opens up a window into the darker chapters of Australia's convict settlement past, when the British penal colony was a harsh, unforgiving wilderness populated by struggling pioneers and convicts sent to the other side of the earth for stealing so much as a loaf of bread. Once there, repeat offenders might be confined to Sarah Island, a hellish prison camp in Macquarie Harbour in western Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania. Conditions there were so extreme that in 1822, Irish-born malcontent Alexander Pearce and seven others, tasked with felling the surrounding forests to provide shipbuilders with high-quality wood, attempted to escape their exile. When plans to steal a moored whaling vessel fell through, the escapees, without much aforethought, plunged into the harsh Tasmanian wilderness intending to travel east to Hobart, some 225km away. Although Robert Greenhill, one of the convicts, could draw upon his many years as a sailor to provide navigational expertise, none present knew how to survive in bushland so inhospitable even the indigenous Australians largely avoided it, and when food supplies ran out, they turned to cannibalism. Few of the ill-fated expedition would survive to tell the tale. In 'Van Diemen's Land', we join the convicts on the day of their escape attempt and follow the grizzly events that ensue.
The story of Alexander Pearce is perhaps not unsurprisingly missing from the school curriculum in Australia, and it was only through this film that I myself became familiar with this dark chapter of White Australia. 'Van Diemen's Land' inspired me to fire up my browser and learn more, with the realisation that in movie terms, I was watching the middle part of a trilogy. Part 1 would have dealt with Pearce's repeated offences condemning him to slave labour on Sarah Island. There, he would continue to prove unruly for the authorities, practicing his talent for theft and disruption, ultimately finding himself on work detail felling trees in Macquarie Harbour and seeing an opportunity for escape. Part 3 would have dealt with the consequences of his actions, including one final adventure, which the last sequence of 'Van Diemen's Land' briefly covers. Director and co-writer Jonathan auf der Heide, however, appears to be fixated upon the middle part of the story, and while the moment when Pearce acquired a taste for human flesh strikes an undeniable discord with all but perhaps the Korowai tribe of Papua New Guinea, I can't help feeling that it's a little like telling the tale of Ned Kelly focusing only on the killings at Stringybark Creek. Only a few captions either side of the film quickly fill in the blanks, hinting that there is more to the story. Nonetheless, 'Part 2' is well-crafted for what it is and sheds a memorable, yet gloomy light on this hitherto forgotten saga.
auf der Heide wisely chooses a cast of unknowns to inhabit the fateful eight, which ensures the audience will accept their alter egos at face value. Oscar Redding, perhaps the best-known, creates an Alexander Pearce just possibly capable of redemption, up until the moment he agrees to sacrifice a member of the party for food, while Arthur Angel portrays a Robert Greenhill you wouldn't want to be within twenty miles of when it came time to sleep. The rest of the cast fill out the remainder of the ill-fated group with similarly creditable performances, with the Scottish characters delivering their lines in Gallic alongside the 18th Century English dialect to underscore Australia's role as a dumping ground for convicts all across the British Isles. The string-powered score, often more sound than symphony, meshes well with the bleak, washed-out picture to strongly evoke the dark mood of the piece. There are no archetypal heroes, only desperate human animals hastening the decay of civilisation's thin veneer. Filmed on location in south-central Tasmania, the authentic natural backdrop does much on its own to sell the concept that the escapees are not only at the end of the earth as they themselves suggest, but that the land is cold and unforgiving - just as much today as it was in 1822. If I have issues with the film, therefore, it's the storyline.
By focusing purely upon the escape attempt and the descent into cannibalism, the tale feels reduced somewhat into a B-grade exploitation horror. It doesn't provide suitable build-up to properly explore the choices certain characters make throughout, though the documentation for this does exist. In consequence, I felt the leap to 'the other meat' was a little rushed, reminding me of an early South Park episode where cannibalism is the first rather than last resort. In addition, the full story would be more satisfying than some of the edited highlights 'cannibalised' for the purposes of a thriller. There is far more to the Alexander Drake story than we are witness to in 'Van Diemen's Land'. Undeniably, the issue of runtime comes into play here, however as I suggested earlier, there is enough scope for more than one feature. However, auf der Heide is the first to explore it cinematically, and perhaps this will spark interest in genuine Australian Gothic from here on. It certainly captures the tone and feel of that bleak world, taking strides towards tapping into a rarely explored period of Australian history that perhaps may now be brought to light free of the nationalist veil. Certainly any proud Australian and film fan should see 'Van Diemen's Land' for this purpose, and genre fans everywhere will appreciate what it does achieve. Let's hope it's a taster of things to come.
Having seen a documentary about this story a few years ago, I was
enraptured by the story and absorbed until its conclusion. When I heard
a film was in production, I was interested to see how it would be
translated into a motion picture.
This should by no means considered a film that delivers on the potential of this story.
I suspect budgetary restraints ruled out the possibility of opening scenes such as the prisoner's arrival at Hell's Gates as the prisoners rowed for their lives through the stormy sea. Scenes in the courtroom where Pearce is confronted with the horror of his deeds were similarly ruled out. I also believe budgetary restraints were at the root of so much of the landscape views of Tasmania we were 'treated' to- a previous comment said the film works as an ad for the area, I didn't rent the film to see an ad for the landscape of Tasmania!
In one scene the director focuses on a mountain top for longer than five seconds (It was long enough for the thought to enter my mind- did he hike up here with a camera and say, well I made it up here so this shot is taking up at least six seconds of this movie!)
Budgetary constraints doesn't mean the film couldn't have been successful, engrossing, and in some ways this gave it an advantage over any big-budget films that may succeed it. Whereas they would spend time on back-story, by cutting straight to the shock value of the cannibalistic 'middle part of a possible trilogy' as suggested by an earlier comment, Auf Der Heide could have given a definitive interpretation of it. Time saved on earlier scenes could have been used to give more depth to the inter-group dynamics, leaving the viewer wondering 'who would be voted off next', in a Survivor-like scenario.
If you're making a film like this with a low budget, the focus has to be more on the human aspects of the group. For this to work, a strong narrative voice explaining the group dynamics was needed. Pearce would have been ideal for this, but instead we were presented with 'the quiet man', which proved disastrous.
Where could the film have succeeded in the context of it having a relatively low budget? How could it have better elicited tension and emotions?
· Fleeing the prison- dialogue about having to escape the deadly conditions would have helped us see the need for escape
· The decision to resort to cannibalism- the portrayal of how the resources diminish isn't done in a way that builds tension, it's merely documented. Members of the party were unaware whilst the others plotted, and the first murder took place at night while the first victim slept. This scene should have been shot through the ignorant ones' eyes as they wonder what's become of the group.
· This could have been followed by dialogue between the two who ran away about how they thought they were next and the plan of their subsequent escape from the group.
· Explaining the sub-groups; the miracle of Pearce's survival is that he was the outsider from the point where there was at least 4 left and in theory he should have been next in the pot. A narrative from him detailing these fears could have done wonders.
· When it came down to the two men, the pact that took place between the two men to renounce cannibalism has no place in the film. This could have been developed the theme, added to the tension as we question the two men's sincerity or even broken the pervasive silence.
· There was no moment of catharsis where he reaches the village and is 'saved', if a man can be saved after what he has been through.
Ultimately it's a poor script that failed to bring out the potential of the subject matter or to deliver any character I would either remember (the Alexander Pearce of my memory is the one whose character was explored in the documentary I saw) or whose survival I actually cared about even in the closing scenes of such dramatic potential.
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