Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
New Zealand, 2021. Light in the Dark Productions. Screenplay by Eli Kent, James Ashcroft, based on the short story by Owen Marshall. Cinematography by Matt Henley. Produced by Desray Armstrong, Catherine Fitzgerald, Mike Minogue. Music by John Gibson. Production Design by Philip Gibson, Kate Logan. Costume Design by Gabrielle Stevenson. Film Editing by Annie Collins.
The conventions of a kidnapping thriller are given particularly cruel life by a great cast and tight direction in this nerve wracking film from New Zealand, which begins with the innocuous pleasure of a family of four spending their day together on a picnic. Having stopped for a meal by a lake, they are approached by two threatening strangers who immediately turn their world upside down, and within minutes there are kidnap victims being driven by the bad guys to a destination that the captives are not aware of.
What seemed at first a random targeting of these people, however, turns out to be something more specific and intentional when main villain Daniel Gillies starts asking family patriarch Erik Thomson about his past, getting him to talk about a history tinged with dark secrets from before he began his teaching career, when he worked at a boys’ reformatory that specialized in abusing its residents.
The road they travel stretches out and things do not improve as the vehicle makes its way to its final destination, where we find ourselves wondering if what we have been watching is actually not a revenge thriller told from the opposite point of view. The bad guys are doing terrible things to characters who were set up for us as the innocent victims of their mayhem, but what if we knew their experiences first, maybe we would also be invested in their evening the score?
Played out on a corkscrew of a plot, this film inspires more than its fair share of philosophical quandaries that only make the trauma of its relentless violence that much harder to bear, taking the audience on a thrilling, entertaining ride while making ample room for a treatise on the wisdom of vengeance and the reality of a country’s checkered (and though it’s not exclusively stated, colonial) history.