Van Diemen's Land - review
Coming after the recent horror film Dying Breed and the historical telemovie The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce, you might be wondering just how much more there is to discover about people who eat people in the Apple Isle. The short answer is: not much. Based on the same historical events as seen in The Last Confession, the story’s simple: eight convicts escape from their guards in 1820s Tasmania and head inland in the hope of making it to settlements on the east coast. They get lost, discover that Tasmania doesn’t really have much to offer in the way of food, and end up eating each other. A real-life tale of cannibalism sounds like the perfect material for a film, but as anyone who saw the first two films about Tasmanian cannibals already knows, once you get past the diet pretty much all that’s left is a nature walk through some very impressive (and in this case, impressively shot) scenery.
There’s an attempt to generate a creepy mood through the Gaelic voice-overs provided by Pearce (played by producer Oscar Redding, who co-wrote the script), but while lines like “If you have no scars, the crows will eat your eyes” are certainly ominous, they don’t come from anywhere: we never get much insight into Pearce or what drives him (past hunger) and he remains a cipher throughout the film. To be fair, so does everyone else, and soon beards and tattered clothing make the cast interchangeable in looks as well as personalities.
There are a few interesting elements here, especially the use of Gaelic to divide the English and Irish convicts, but once long pork arrives on the menu at the forty minute mark the next hour becomes a guessing game as to who’ll be eaten next – and with everyone stumbling through the scrub basically being identical it’s difficult to really care.
Van Diemen’s Land does give viewers a very good idea of what it feels like to be trapped in a repetitious environment while slowly being ground down by the hopelessness of their situation – just not quite in the way the film-makers intended.
By Anthony Morris
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