Van Dieman’s Land

Year: 2009
Production Co: Noise & Light
Director: Jonathan auf der Heide
Writer: Oscar Redding/Jonathan auf der Heide
Cast: Oscar Redding

We saw Alexander Pearce referenced most recently in the so-so Australian horror movie Dying Breed, but his story was always fascinating and potentially cinematic.

With a small group of fellow convicts, Pearce escaped a small penal outpost in Tasmania and plunged into the forest, unaware that the land was unforgiving, the weather cruel and food scarce.

With the group splintering and small alliances pitting the convicts against each other, there was only one solution as they inevitably started to weaken and die.

As the film tells it, soft-spoken Irishman Pearce wasn't the ringleader who decided to eat the dead, but something in the film I didn't quite catch made him complicit, and as history tells us, he was of course the last man standing as paranoia and murder swept through the small group, depleting their numbers. It got to the point where on the last night of the ordeal, Pearce and the second last man alive lay through the night, too scared to sleep lest they end up breakfast.

It's not an action packed film, but it's breathtaking in its beauty despite the subject matter. Director auf der Heide pans lovingly across the green wilderness, and Pearce's lilting Gaelic voiceover intersperses the action with observations about his plight and life.

Like John Hillcoat's The Road, it's a very realistic slowing burning drama, and filmgoers waiting for the bloodshed and savagery of a horror film will be disappointed.

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