Newcomer Maya Stange leads an impressive cast line-up in Bill Bennett's (Kiss or Kill) latest feature, In a Savage Land. Playing opposite no-nonsense indie veteran Martin Donovan and rising star Rufus Sewell (Dark City) as part of a love triangle, Stange carries a lot of expectation on her young shoulders in her first feature.In a Savage Land centres on Evelyn (Stange), as she accompanies her new husband (and former teacher) Phillip Spence (Donovan) on a pre-WWII research trip to the remote New Guinean Trobriand Islands. There they study the sexual mores of a group of villagers and in doing so, are brought face to face with their own dysfunctional interactions as husband and wife.
With the amoral, swashbuckling pearl trader Mick (Sewell) thrown in as the rough-diamond type who makes Donovan appear as in-tune with the natives as a chainsaw in a sing-along, the sexual tension between Evelyn and her husband leads the young idealistic woman to set off for another island and eventually into Mick's arms.
This film assumes epic proportions, with a well researched (but at times, tritely constructed) script and storyline. In a Savage Land is essentially a film of ideas, and Bill Bennett shows no fear in tackling them all at once. Running concurrently with the theme of sexual politics are ideas of the universal role of women in society, of what constitutes a civilised society, western imperialism and its destruction of so-called primitive cultures, just to name a few. But in trying to swallow all these ideas in one gulp, In a Savage Land bites off more than it can chew, and the result is a script and plot suffering from indigestion.
With such jarring scenes as Evelyn 'turning native' (out of nowhere, and then returning to her prim and proper western guise) and the rushed plot injection of the Japanese invasion, In a Savage Land may have been better suited to the strolling pace of a TV miniseries.Great cinematography, but. ---Lachlan Gilbert