The Lost Tribe (1983)

Sex :
Violence :
Director John Laing
Writers John Laing
Starring John Bach, Darien Takle, Don Selwyn, Martyn Sanderson, Emma Takle
Genre Thriller
Tagline Altered States Deadly States

Talk us through it

Max Scarry, an anthropologist investigating a lost Iwi, has gone missing in New Zealand's remote Fiordland. Edward Scarry, his estranged brother, and Ruth Scarry, his wife, head down to Fiordland to find out what happened. Along for the ride is Katy, Max's seemingly psychic daughter. The locals aren't being too helpful with fisherman Bill Thorne bringing new meaning to the term tactiturn, and local Police Sergeant Swain clearly knowing more than he is prepared to say.

Complicating matters is the murder of a Wellington prostitute by a man calling himself Edward Scarry who matches Edward's description. Even though Edward is picked out of a line-up he has a water tight alibi confusing the Police investigators.

All roads lead to a remote Fiordland beach where answers may or may not be lurking in isolation. Is Max still alive, did he murder the prostitute, and will the tabu on the local site come into play? Lets head bush and check this one out.


“Daddy, he was in a cave, a monster's cave!” - Katy Scarry

The Lost Tribe is another kiwi dark genre movie I figured I would never have a chance of catching till it got a jersey in the recent New Zealand Cinema series. Great stuff whoever came up with this idea, and ScaryMinds would like to send our thanks to Screenline NZ for stocking the titles as they become available. It's like an early blood stained Christmas around our office and I for one am grooving on down here to some classic and very underrated films. Okay so Director John Laing had previously touched basis with crime in the classic Beyond Reasonable Doubt, The Lost Tribe would mark the first of a couple of dark genre flicks, (the other is Dangerous Orphans (1985)), before the Director disappeared into the wilds of television production. How did he go on the subject of urban paranoia and tabu?

John Laing, here filling in as Director and Writer, went schizo with The Last Tribe delivering a movie that on first appearances is all over the shop but which does hang together as a fairly intense thriller that raises the chill factor on a number of occasions. You can be forgiven for wondering exactly what is going down during different sections of the movie, but hang on in there kids it all makes some sort of sense as the final credits roll. Well plenty of room left for to discuss just what the ending meant and what the hell the character of Katy was about at least.

Anthropologist Max Scarry goes missing while research a lost Maori tribe in the remote Fiordland of New Zealand, all good and straight forward, throw in some tabu mutterings about disturbing of ancestrial lands and we're good to go with an evil dead approach. You need to stay in the light there as they can only apparently get you in the darkness. Director Laing adds some claustrophobic caves there just to up the anti he is slowly developing. Just what is out there in the night beyond the flimsy walls of Max's shack? However Laing isn't doing an evil dead movie. Cool, sub plot about a murdered prostitute with Edward Scarry being the main suspect. This kind of adds the flavouring to explain certain developments we are exposed to, but the actual murder is never fully explored, we have zero in the way of motivation and are simply left with the sub-plot beached and flopping somewhat. It all makes some kind of sense as things wind down, but for those of us who like things to build solidly there's a feeling John Laing needed additional plot structuring but was unsure of just what the hell to do with it. And finally Katy Scarry seems to have some sort of psychic ability, why she should have this (beyond providing narration and some reinforcement of where the action has taken us), is once again never fully explored or explained. The main focus Laing brings to bare is the tabu and whether or not the Iwi spirits are out for revenge for being disturbed, or whether it might simply be Max going bush in the sort of breakdown that can be attributed to cabin fever. Director Laing keeps those conflicting notions rocking on during the vital two nights we spend at Max's cabin, it's pretty intense stuff and the tension is simply dripping off the walls.

There's a feeling throughout The Lost Tribe of an undisclosed menace, the movie doesn't let up on pimping the tension and the dark tangle it is weaving, which never quite eventuates, or at least doesn't eventuate in the form you may be expecting. John Laing it could be argued is something of a horror tease, though he never set out to make anything other than a psychological thriller. We are expecting some evil dead happening, ala perhaps Sam Raimi, what we do get is something infinitely more sinister than mere supernatural terrors. Like James Cameron circa Aliens (1986) Laing realises there is an inherent twist of the knife in turning people's own base desires against each other. In Cameron's case, perhaps due to his American sensibilities, the evil corporate dude reaps what he effective sows, in Laing's case there is no moral judgement, evil goes unpublished.

John Laing is clearly aiming at something slightly more lofty than a disposable horror movie and as such enriches his movie with all sorts of meaning and symbolism, most of which we don't give a frack about here at ScaryMinds. I am mentioning just in case someone from the wine and cheese set is slumming it by visiting. So we get lots of sea motifs in both the sound track and visually, and all sorts of things hanging down by strings. Insert your own meaning there, probably one to be had, but it went whooshing over my head. We also get a comparison of two people shaving, and a major change having an effect on both their lives post shaving, and of course the preternaturally aware Katy and Sergeant Swain who both know things they shouldn't. All sorts of mix and match stuff for those reading who like to write huge essays on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Go for your life, knock yourself out there.

The Director uses his locations to perfection, we get a real feeling of how isolated the cabin location is, and how cold the conditions are. Things are left to the Audience to discover and what we assume is going down isn't necessarily what has gone down. The Lost Tribe is a brooding search into the psychotic nature of the New Zealand experience, where what we perceive isn't necessarily what the environment is delivering.

I'm going to cut this review short due to our new word length as determined by Editorial policy. If you can hunt out the movie it's well worth checking out, John Laing has delivered a very underrated classic of New Zealand dark cinema. .

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  A tension laced journey into the New Zealand psychotic.