It is often a very bad sign when a film is released straight to DVD, but in this case it may well be that the subject matter was thought to be too challenging for a full cinematic release. This is a film that does not flinch from a realistic portrayal of cannabilism and the hardships that can drive men to such depths of savagery. The same theme was explored in the film "Alive", based on the plane full of Uruguayan rugby players who crashed in the Andes and were forced by starvation into such barbarity. It is a deeply disturbing subject to broach and is as dark as the novel "Lord of the Flies" to which one of the film crew compared it! The nobel prize winning Australian author Patrick White covered similar circumstances to this film with his mesmeric story "A Fringe of Leaves", about a group of shipwreck unfortunates on the Australian coast and their increasingly desperate attempts to survive on a hostile shore. A novel that I have already reviewed.
The film, set in 1822 is based on the confessions of notorious convict William Pearce. A group of eight convicts escape from a penal settlement in Van Dieman's Land, today known as Tasmania. But out of the frying pan and into the fire, they discover that the Tasmanian wilderness is an extremely hostile environment with little in the way of food to be found. Even when populated by the native aborigines it could only support a tiny population on it's large land mass. The men become increasingly desperate as their food runs out and the age old primal survival instincts begin to disturbingly surface. The unthinkable becomes a reality.
This marks a very assured debut from the young director Jonathan Auf Der Heide, who does a magnificent job of picking up the period feel. The costumes are excellent and the speech of the men spot on, even with a realistic smattering of Gaelic to add embellishment. The darkish hues of the film give it an aged quality that also helps the whole look of the film. A special mention should be made of the stunning cinematography by Ellery Ryan, which beautifully illustrates the primal dark beauty of the Tasmanian forests. A fitting location for such a bleak story. I struggle to recall better cinematography in recent years. The acting is all excellent and it is clear to see that both crew and cast have really suffered for the sake of their art. The film relies on brooding menace rather than any plot, and at times the violence can seem a little gratuitous to the faint hearted, but given the subject this is very hard to avoid. I have to be honest here and say that it is just too dark for my taste. Despite this I also have to admit that it is an excellently crafted piece of cinema, and is certainly one that once seen, will never be forgotten.