Review: ‘Promised Land’

Heavy on portent but underwhelming in payoff, South African thriller "Promised Land" reps an ungainly mix of quasi-horror and "Straw Dogs"-type rural ruffianism, with Apartheid-resistant Afrikaner farmers cast as the evildoers. Hamfisted if polished results will fill B-grade slots for international broadcasters and rental shelves.

Heavy on portent but underwhelming in payoff, South African thriller “Promised Land” reps an ungainly mix of quasi-horror and “Straw Dogs”-type rural ruffianism, with Apartheid-resistant Afrikaner farmers cast as the evildoers. Hamfisted if polished results will fill B-grade slots for international broadcasters and rental shelves.

Taken to England as an adolescent by his recently deceased mother, London lawyer George Neething (Nick Boraine, a Keifer Sutherland lookalike) now returns to a homeland he barely remembers to settle her estate — notably some farmlands inhabited these last decades by a man named Uncle Pieter. Getting lost en route, Neething is taken in for the night by a welcoming yet vaguely threatening family scarred by both drought and resentment toward post-colonial policies.

Turns out the family is in cahoots with a local white supremacist movement whose sneering leader Gerhard (Ian Roberts) is planning a terrorist attack — as well as his marriage to reluctant Carla (Yvonne Van Den Bergh).

“Persuaded” with increasing force to stay on, Neething soon realizes that both racism foe Uncle Pieter and the family farm have both long since met ill ends. Romance with Carla and alliance with her sensitive (read: gay) sib Paul (Daniel Browde) get Neething in hot water as the goons realize he’s no Aryan Power sympathizer.

Overblown, unsatisfying climax is a siege that interrupts a tense engagement party. Fired willy-nilly into a house from outside, police bullets miraculously only seem to hit the bad guys, ensuring a happy fade.

Over-edited and overscored for sledgehammer-suspense effects (though little action beyond false scares occurs till last reel), first feature for writer-director Jason Xenopoulos reps a case of strenuous packaging with too little inside. Script is at once tiresomely teasing and too on-the-nose (“Go home … while you still can!,” etc.).

Perfs are OK given script’s limits. Apart from full-color childhood flashbacks, pic is processed in washed-out, near-sepia tones that, combined with Giulio Biccari’s self-conscious lensing, are striking at first but soon grow simply dreary. That aside, production does a decent job stretching modest resources toward a pro genre veneer.

Promised Land

South Africa

Production

A Film Afrika production in association with Khulisa Prods. Produced by Moonyeenn Lee and David Wicht.Directed by Jason Xenopoulos. Screenplay, Xenopoulos, based on the novel "Na Die Geliefde Land" by Karel Schoeman.

Crew

Camera (color), Giulio Biccari; editor, Ronelle Loots; music, Rene Veldsman; production designer, Michael Berg; costume designer, Diana Cilliers; set decorator, Fred Du Preez; sound (Dolby), Barry Donnelly, Mark Phillips; assistant director, Leigh Tanchel; casting, Moonyeenn Lee. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Planet Africa), Sept. 11, 2002. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Nick Boraine, Yvonne Van Den Bergh, Daniel Browde, Ian Roberts, Louis Van Niekerk, Dan Robbertse, Grant Swanby, Wilma Stockenstrom.
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