This Polynesian tribal drama boasts the distinction of being the first feature-length film made by Fijians, and is loosely based on the experiences of director Hereniko himself, who grew up on Rotuma but left to be educated in Fiji.
Viki is a young girl living in a poor village on the island of Rotuma, about 300 miles north of Fiji. Her father, considered a “pagan” by others, teaches her of the old pre-Christian ways and beliefs, specifically the legend of the Warrior Woman (Tafate’masian), who is said to have been abandoned on Rotuma by her seven brothers, after being raped by one of them. She survived against great adversity, gave birth to a girl-child and founded the island culture, vowing that future generations of Rotuman women will “carry her mana and spirit”. A strong-willed girl, Viki is inspired by this story and determined to earn a scholarship to travel to Fiji, where her studies will free the family from poverty. After her father is framed for coconut theft by the court interpreter, Poto, who deliberately mistranslates for the naïve English judge, her determination becomes even greater. But her father is ill and the odds seem unjustly stacked against her and the family, despite her father’s reassurance that “the land has eyes and teeth and knows the truth”. As a confrontation draws closer and tragedy strikes, Viki begins to channel the Warrior Woman of her tribal dreams.
The film is basically naturalistic in approach, though with an air of the supernatural, especially toward the climax. The film begins with Viki’s father telling her the story of the Warrior Woman — events dramatized for us as he narrates them — and occasionally refers back to the legend, verbally and visually, as Viki struggles to achieve her dreams. Initially, moments when Viki “sees” the Warrior Woman or experiences her influence can be understood as internalizations of the legend — though the supernatural becomes more overt during the climax, where a sudden storm and almost poltergeist-like violence brings about the downfall of the dishonest and conniving Poto. Here, where the land reveals through bared teeth the truth that its eyes have seen (as it were), the manifestation of the Warrior Woman and her spirit is experienced as strange phenomena by all present, especially the Judge, who confesses that he does not understand what happened. Yet the supernatural origin of events remains ambiguous due principally to the subjective style in which it is directed.
The approach taken by The Land Has Eyes is a quiet, introspective one when compared to current Western film aesthetics. That is its strength, but is also likely to limit its appeal. Many will find its lack of large-scale action dull. Nevertheless it offers convincing insight into the tribal culture of Rotuma and effectively dramatizes its aspirations and beliefs.