Jennifer Kent’s second full-length feature is harder to watch than The Babadook, at least in its opening moments, largely because of its portrayal of sexual violence. Still, that’s surely the point: any close study of the history of European settler-colonies leads to the conclusion that there is a close, even necessary, relationship between imperialism and rape (of the colonized, of the land).
Kent’s political imaginary doesn’t equalize Irish convicts with Aboriginal people so much as it highlights their common dispossession at the hands of the British Empire. Without delving too deeply into the film’s plot, I can say that it’s as bloody as any revenge tragedy– a fitting genre for this aspect of Australia’s history.
In the effort to dramatize the violence of colonialism from a post-colonial perspective, however, Kent departs from the very register that might give form to imperial depravity. Horror is the appropriate mode for this story.
On the other hand a plethora of middle-brow horror films in recent years– most yearning after some adequately weighty subtext– may have diluted the genre’s power. Even narrative itself exerts a kind of tyranny over what it is possible to effectively communicate about the past. Are the realities and legacies of colonialism adequately addressed in a well-rounded tale that features no untidy excess? If a flm can contain these historical forces within a satisfying story that possesses the requisite moments of suspense leading to ultimate dramatic closure has it told a kind of lie? As Nicholas Cage said on the evening of his Oscar award, cinema is the marriage of art and commerce. And the commercial mode can’t sustain the kind of avant-garde experiments with form that might capture the ragged, spasmodic truths of historical experience.