Dir: Riccardo Pellizzeri
Star: Heather Walsh, Greta Gregory, Mark Mitchinson, Flynn Allan
There are plenty of films retelling the stories of various real-life psychos, but this is the first one I’ve seen to be narrated by one of his victims, Walsh. She was hired, while still a teenager, as a tutor on a remote farm way in the backwoods of New Zealand, for the son of farmer Bill Cornelius. But she gradually found herself psychologically “kidnapped”, cut off from her family and gradually groomed into become his slave, on all levels, even testifying on his behalf at a custody hearing concerning his son. After 23 weeks, she finally managed to escape, stealing a vehicle while her captor was out hunting.
But it was 23 more years before she was able to go to the police with her story. Turned out she was not the only one to have such a story, with at least half-a-dozen other victims telling similar tales. However, Cornelius escaped justice, because by the time he was eventually brought to trial in 2012, he was suffering from senile dementia and unfit to stand trial – he died a few months later. As such, it inevitably feels a little more like the case for the prosecution, and we can only rely on Walsh’s side of the story, which may or may not be accurate. I note, in particular, a fairly-rapid glossing over the quick mention that the sex with Cornelius was initially consensual – even though he was three decades older than her.
While I don’t deny the potential impact of abuse, or Helsinki syndrome, the move from innocent schoolgirl to brainwashed captive is apparently sudden and never adequately explained. Chris sat in on some of this with me, and she alternated derisive snorts with “Just leave!” comments. That said, Hitchinson certainly delivers a creepy portrayal as Cornelius, and the isolation which Heather felt is well depicted too, in helicopter shots of the apparently endless tracts of wilderness. But it’s the shortcomings on the psychological aspects which leave this deficient, and I was never able quite to make the leap to mind-controlled sex-slave which apparently took place. When you’re left on the near side of that abyss, all you can do is wave…