The cinematographer did an absolutely amazing job. The last time that I was THAT amazed at a movie's visuals was Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) where every frame was like a 17th century painting.
In Van Diemen's Land a group of Irish, English and Scottish criminals engineer an escape from Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania (formerly known as Van Dieman's Land), an end-of-the-road place for men whose punishment is a lifetime of slavery. Their escape goes wrong and they end up running into the forest to escape British soldiers.
The camp fire scenes were amazingly lit - like worn paintings of faces in amber and black. The lighting techniques were repetitive, either a camp fire scene, a long, scenery shot or men walking in the forest, but so, so realistic. I was regularly in awe of the look and feel.
The movie had impact, a realism that is rare in film. The dirt under the fingernails, in the ears, on the skin, teeth and clothing looked right. At no point were you ever pulled from the movie - it surrounds you with the hunger and anxiety of the characters. The brutality is ultra-real and as far from being romanticized as is possible.
The story is simple. A story of escape and survival in the wilds, about desperate measures in harsh circumstances.
The character of Alexander Pearce narrates in Irish Gaelic, and the film makers decide to turn him him into an eloquent poet, a literary genius and philosopher, rather than just a common, murderous thug. It was the right choice to make Pearce narrate in something other than English and make his English rather poor as it heightens the tension and make Pearce even that much more of an outsider.
This is a brilliant but disturbing film that is amazing to watch. I want film makers to watch and learn from this film.