THE LAND HAS EYES
(Pear ta ma on maf)
There are many similarities between The Land Has Eyes and Whale Rider (2002), even though The Land Has Eyes was completed well before Whale Rider came out. Both films have similar story structures concerning a young adolescent girl in a Polynesian tribal culture trying to deal with prejudices of her community as well as the pressures of the modern world on her community before she eventually comes to find her strength in rediscovering tribal myth/legend. Both The Land Has Eyes and Whale Rider also end in a Magical Realist catharsis. The story of The Land Has Eyes is largely that of writer/director Vilsoni Hereniko who grew up on Rotuma and, like the heroine of the story, departed the island for Fiji and through his own belief in education eventually became a playwright and a professor at the University of Hawaii, before returning to Rotuma with an international film crew to shoot The Land Has Eyes.
The problem with films like The Land Has Eyes, to some extent Whale Rider, as well as other stories of distant cultures such as Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001), Osama (2003), Return to Kandahar (2003) and The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003), is that in watching them you tend to appreciate them more for what they do ie. in providing a glimpse into a culture that is previously unrepresented on screen than you sit viewing them as dramatic films. You tend to feel that you are getting more a dramatised cultural documentary than you are a dramatic work of fiction. This is interesting precisely to the extent that one is interested in finding about these cultures. Certainly, The Land Has Eyes offers an fascinating glimpse of the culture and aspirations of such a place as Rotuma where education is seen as a means of escape from the poverty of the island culture and travelling to Suva (Fijis capital) by plane is seen almost as a journey to the promised land; where the amount that one tithes in church is seen as a measure of social standing; where the culture and bureaucracy on the island is dominated by petty corruption and the real authority and decision-making process still lies with the British ruling class; of seeing the local wedding ceremonies and the often impoverished surroundings that the locals live in (at least compared to our Western comforts).
In writing about films like The Land Has Eyes from a science-fiction, horror and fantasy perspective, you feel unkind to the clear effort that has gone into portraying the world seen on screen in having to say that the films are often dramatically dull. This is not always the case with abovementioned but is however a comment that one would have to make about The Land Has Eyes. The dramas that take place in it are minor and the determined intent in offering a portrait of everyday life has a kitchen-sink ordinariness to the point of being humdrum. That said, The Land Has Eyes passes though its relatively low-key dramatics to eventually arrive with modest effect. The end of the film contains a Magical Realist uplift that holds a strong emotional charge in its eventual triumph of the underdog. The Land Has Eyes is ultimately a film that is ragged, where the acting is not that great, but one that feels like a child with a dirty face who manages to win through simply by virtue of being able to give a ragged but winning smile that goes from ear to ear.