EIFF 09: Van Diemen's Land
Part true story, part grim survival horror, Van Diemen's Land suffers from a problem shared by many films at the festival this year in that it is overlong and repetitive. Had the running time been cut or featured more depth and less wandering through yet another bit of forest and crossing yet another river it might have been able to hold the attention more easily through its slow-moving story.
Van Diemen's Land was a remote, mostly uninhabited area of Tasmania, used as a hard labor camp for criminals exiled from Britain in the early 19th century. Overpowering their guard one day, a group of these criminals make a bid for freedom, grossly underestimating the harshness of the terrain ahead and the horrific lengths some of the group will go to in order to survive.
First time director Jonathan Auf Der Heide adapted Van Diemen's Land from a short he made in film school and it is in broadening the story for a feature that Auf Der Heide's inexperience shows. The film ends up being too slow and pensive to be an effective horror tale and too gruesome and dark to work as an engaging “prison-break” drama.
Whatever you come away thinking about the story and its pacing, however, the one area where Van Diemen's Land does excel is in the way it looks. Shot on Red One digital and filmed almost entirely using natural light, the film never looks less than amazing. Stripped of most of its color, the common perception of that part of the world of warm, inviting and sunny is replaced with a grey and barren appearance telegraphing the horrors to come. If only Auf Der Heide and writing partner Oscar Redding can learn to improve the pacing of their scripts and subsequently the features, they have a good chance of moving on to better things.
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