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“Invitation to Dance - It’s a Dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom. But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Even in the Dark. Especially in the Dark. May I have the pleasure?” --- Stephen King ::::::::::: MY CRITERIA FOR DISCUSSION ENCOMPASSES THE HORROR GENRE AND BEYOND, SO I USE THE TERM "NIGHTMARE MOVIES". SPOILERS CAN OCCUR WITH OR WITHOUT WARNING. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Van Diemen's Land

June 5th 2009 04:51
Van Diemen's Land movie poster
It’s curious that two movies about Alexander Pearce should be made so close to each other. Not a strange thing in Hollywood, but the Pearce movies are not products of Tinseltown, they’re products of Australia, where Alexander Pearce was a penal colony convict in the first half of the 19th Century.

The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (2009) was a more elaborate telling of the events of Pearce’s incarceration, escape, journey through the dense Tasmanian wilderness with seven other convicts, their demise to cannibalism, Pearce’s re-capture, his second escape (after his story of cannibalism was dismissed as cover-up for the other at large convicts), his capture again, the discovery of a mutilated body close by, and his confession and subsequent execution.

Van Diemen’s Land (2009), directed by Tasmanian Jonathon Auf Der Heide, is a more sober telling, beginning with the escape and ending with the murder and consumption by Pearce (Oscar Redding) of Robert Greenhill (Arthur Angel), but a far more chilling study of the darkness that engulfs a tortured mind in a state of starvation. “Hunger is a strange silence” reads the movie’s tagline.
Van Diemen's Land convicts
Hell's prisoners, Alexander Pearce (Oscar Redding), fifth from left
The feature originated as a short, Hell’s Gates (2008), Der Heide’s graduation film for Victorian College of the Arts (it went on to win best short film at the Melbourne International Film Festival last year). The core cast return for the feature, with Oscar Redding (who plays Pearce) co-writing the screenplay with Der Heide. It’s a solid script that slow burns toward its inevitable frayed (or should that be flayed?) end. If I was being facetious I’d make a distasteful analogy that the movie is like confit long pig.
Van Diemen's Land Tasmanian wilderness
The wild Land of Van Diemen AKA Tasmania
Slow-moving it may be, but Van Diemen’s Land is gripping and powerful stuff indeed. Every performance is nuanced and commanding, with Pearce’s character more subdued (for the most part) and introspective than the performance of Ciaran McMenamin in Michael Jay Rowland’s Alexander Pearce movie. But the imagery is just as vivid a character as the actors. The cinematography is dark and brooding, the Tasmanian landscape rustling like a sleeping demon. Der Heide’s visual narrative is superb, and his subtle use of symbolism (the abandoned boots of each convict after their respective demise, Pearce seeing human blood around the axe in the tree instead of sap) adds a tenebrous poetry.
Van Diemen's Land Torquil Neilsen
Torquil Neilsen as John Mathers
The sound design and score is also memorable, as well as the attention to the different dialects spoken by the convicts; some were Scottish, some were Irish, and some were Australian. Pearce was an Irishman who spoke Gaelic, and it’s his philosophical musings used as narration that punctuate the movie, such as “A man with no blood on his hands is no man.”, “Let God have his heaven. I am blood.”, “Four Godless men walk to the Devil.”, and his final statement, “I’ve looked up at God looking down. He dances with an axe in his hand.”

Van Diemen's Land Mark Leonard Winter
Mark Leonard Winter as tender Alexander Dalton
While Der Heide doesn’t linger on any graphic horror he still allows violence to have a significant say in the story, for this is without a doubt a tale of inhumanity and human destruction. The question of morality is cast asunder as these desperadoes try in vain to reach what they call Hell’s Gates AKA Macquarie Harbour, where they believe their true freedom lays in wait. This is a tale of betrayal disguised as survival, of savagery disguised as necessity, of paranoia reigning supreme and finally overwhelming the rational mind. But when hunger consumes the mind and body, rational thought is banished, and the tortured soul becomes hollow, starved of the nutrients it craves, leaving evil to feed on the marrow within its bones.

Here’s the teaser trailer:

Here’s the trailer to the original short film, which uses much of the same imagery (and the same actors, albeit with less facial hair):


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7 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by samaritan

June 5th 2009 05:29
I can't wait to see these movies. I once wrote a short story about Alexander Pearce, and I 've always thought his story would make a good movie.


Comment by Matt Shea

June 5th 2009 13:12
Nice write-up Bryn. I've been hanging out for Van Diemen's Land, even though I've never seen the short. This really does look promising.

Comment by Damo

June 5th 2009 14:34

You actually sounded as if you enjoyed this movie.

I find the story a fascinating piece of history and journey into the dark recesses of the beasts within mankind.

There was similar event that occurred in Western Australia but happen after a ship wreck. The ordered lives fall apart as each person becomes desperate.

Comment by Bryn

June 6th 2009 09:17
Damo, I did enjoy this. Were you confused? You'd like this one.

Comment by Damo

June 7th 2009 02:25
No confusion Bryn.
I was being facetious.
I will watch this as soon as I can.

Comment by Bryn

June 7th 2009 02:50
Ahhh, facetiousness. I know that one well, but was a bit slow on the uptake.

Comment by David O'Connell

April 1st 2011 04:17
I must have missed this one at the time mate, but great review and we're definitely on the same page. I really love this film and appreciate the hell they went through to make it as well. Look forward to seeing what Auf der Heide does next!

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