Human Traces

by Toby Woollaston


In only his first feature, New Zealand writer and Director Nic Gorman has crafted an impeccably paced thriller that sits well within New Zealand’s own “cinema of unease”. Starring local talent Sophie Henderson, Mark Mitchinson and Vinnie Bennett, Human Traces is a chamber piece of isolation and paranoia played out among the heaving shores and bitter winds of a remote outpost.

Sarah (Henderson) and Glen (Mitchinson) are a married couple who work for the Department of Conservation and have been posted on a remote Sub-Antarctic research station.  It’s a barren windswept environment and not for the faint-hearted. When their co-worker finishes her allotted six-month stint, she is replaced by Riki (Bennett), a young lad whose tentative demeanour raises suspicions. As can be expected, all is not as it seems on the island and the film takes great delight in teasing out all its secrets.

The familiar setup might suggest “Dead-Calm-on-an-island” but there is a whole lot more going on in this distinctively Kiwi thriller. Told in three chapters, the film explains the same story from the perspective of each of its three characters, raising questions about whose truth is the “real truth”. It’s a giddy cocktail of intrigue and disclosure which is aided by some deft editing, sound design, and choice of score. 

The decision to opt for a hand-held camera for much of the action wonderfully captures the island’s windswept scape as we are jostled and buffeted among the tundra and its three inhabitants. 

As the title suggests, Human Traces has at its heart an environmentally conscious subtext with humans cast as a blight on the natural order of things; as one character expresses, we are an uneasy mixture of nature and creation. And although it misses opportunities at times to explore this subtext with more vigour, Human Traces remains a surprisingly strong contender for Kiwi film of the year.

Read my full review for the NZ Herald here.