Terra Nova

Terra Nova


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The year is 2013 and, thanks to the abolition of the death penalty, prisons are overflowing across the globe, presenting something of a problem for the authorities. The solution? Ship a consignment of them to a far-flung, freezing “god-foresaken place” and let them colonise it.

Among those sent from a Russian jail are Ivan Zhilin (Konstantin Lavronenko), who, despite his pussycat-like manner, has apparently killed more than 20 men, and his psychopathic cellmate Nikolai (Andrei Feskov). They find themselves on a huge transport ship, which proves a perfect device for introducing the rest of this motley mob and for setting up tensions, particularly between the Russians and Chechens.

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When they find themselves deposited at their new home, the authorities leave a pile of numbered keys, with which to unlock their chains, and then retreat to a safe distance, at which point all hell breaks loose. If the scenes of carnage, as the Russians kill the Chechens in violence which could be read either as a propaganda piece for Russian nationalism or, more likely, if you are from the West, an indictment on the massacre of the few by the many, are reminiscent of Battle Royale, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

It isn’t long before kingpin Monkey (Pavel Sborshikov) has taken charge, with the help of his lackeys, and is creating a prison all of his own where punishment is fatal.

Alongside this bloody action movie runs an altogether more personal tale, as Zhilin, in the manner of Robinson Crusoe, grabs some food and heads off to fend for himself, only to be followed by Nikolai, whose ramblings make him akin to a crazed Man Friday. As winter descends and a revelation is made, they find they must head back to the camp, despite the risk of possibly ending up on the menu.

With a budget said to be in the region of £6million, one of the biggest ever by Russian standards, director Alexander Melnik has put together a very impressive debut. This is a complex story, with a sizeable cast, but the characters are nevertheless well drawn, although some of their motivations are muddy. Good use is made of the landscape to suggest the horrors the men face and the look justifies the money spent.

Despite its grim, men-descending-into-savagery themes, the script by Arif Aliev never loses its sense of humour. Nikolai’s mad ramblings have a darkly comic edge and the absurdity of the position in which the men find themselves is wryly handled, although things stray towards the silly end of the spectrum occasionally in the camp. The runtime is slightly bloated but for the most part Lavronenko and Feskov’s odd couple hold the picture together and, if the conclusion is as daft as a brush, what goes before is entertaining enough to make allowances.

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2008
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Russian blockbuster about a group of convicts sent to colonise a barren island.

Director: Aleksander Melnik

Writer: Arif Aliyev

Starring: Konstantin Lavronenko, Andrei Fes'kov, Pavel Sborshikov, Marat Basharov, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Sergei Zhigunov

Year: 2008

Runtime: 140 minutes

Country: Russia


Russian 2008

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