Van Diemen's Land is not a film for the squeamish...or for anyone who needs a clear resolution at the end of a film...or for anyone doesn't like nearly-monochrome images....or for anyone who doesn't like good cinema.
I wanted to see this film because...well, honestly I've always love the U2 song by the same name. But, also because it looked like it would be a solid, intriguing story line. I DID NOT go see it because I thought it was going to be a visual pinnacle of the festival for me.
It was a visual pinnacle of the festival for me.
The film oozes with shots so wide your eyes might carry off in separate directions trying to take it all in. The opening shot is so long and gorgeous you might think you've accidentally started watching part of the Planet Earth series. But the majority of film is hyper saturated in blues. The tree leaves always look like they've been freshly pulled from a vat of liquid nitrogen, frost desperately clinging them for dear life. The characters' skin tones are always just barely this side of embalmed, which is no accident.
Like so many opportunities in life, the plans laid out in the beginning never quite happen the way they were planned. To achieve freedom in van Diemen's Land is roughly the same as achieving freedom on Alcatraz (unless you're Sean Connery). Where the hell do you go? Unlike Alcatraz, however, van Diemen's Land isn't surrounded by water, it's surrounded by a maddening, unforgiving, unrelenting and unnavigable wilderness of forest. And it's into this wilderness that a group of convicts from the British isles escapes.
To be honest, the first third or so of the film there's some quality humor despite the miserable conditions surrounding these men. But their attitudes toward each other and the journey ahead are noticeably more lighthearted than later in the film. They tell jokes and stories to one another in Gaelic and in all manner of Irish, Welsh and Scottish dialects of English. But the limited humor is quarantined to the dialogue - there is nothing humorous or lighthearted about the condition they are surviving in.
The lighthearted nature of their interactions ceases almost instantly as starvation and previously insignificant differences lead to the murder and cannibalization of one of the men. It turns a band of convicts escaping from the law together into a set of individuals struggling to survive in dire circumstances. All silence becomes deafening as it deteriorates into every man for himself - every man watching his own back.
The whole mood of the film plummets toward despair.
Slowly, survival of the fittest begins to dominate the group. Desperation turns men into images of unimaginable horror. We watch as one by one, they are quite literally devoured by fear. The images the film uses to portray mankind in an animalistic state are brutal at best. It's not the kind of horror that would turn your stomach from a trash film like the SAW series. It's a horror of the subcutaneous reality that could lurk just beneath the surface of any human. And It's that humanity that will make you wince at this film.
A fantastic film in so many ways, but don't look for hope...or any good recipes.
This Film: A