Posted by: Peter Hall
Directed by Jonathan Auf Der Heide, 2009
Written by Jonathan Auf Der Heide and Oscar Redding
Set a film in Tasmania in 1822 with prisoners on the run as characters and, as far as my frame of reference for the story is concerned, you may as well be making a movie on a different planet. And yet with nearly 200 years and half a globe of separation between myself and this true story of cannibalism among escaped convicts, Van Diemen’s Land still clawed its way under my skin. There’s one particularly haunting moment that I found nearly unbearable to watch; what’s amazing about that, however, is that Van Diemen’s Land is not a gory horror show, and the particular moment in question arrives without a single drop of blood.
Despite the integral plot element of cannibalism, there’s no abundance of body parts or organs floating about in Van Diemen’s Land. In fact, the film is remarkably light on the red, and yet there are nerve-crushing moments in which all semblance of humanity goes out the window. That loss of moral compass in the face of survival is the cornerstone of this fact-based story about a prison break that went horribly wrong: Eight prisoners in a Tasmanian penal colony overthrow their sole guard only to learn that the coast isn’t as clear as they thought, that their only true course of action is to either wait to be recaptured (and almost certainly executed) or flee aimlessly into the wilderness.