Australian director John Hillcoat made a striking debut in 1988 with the powerful prison drama Ghosts... Of The Civil Dead, but has since been threatening to join the ranks of cinema's one-hit wonders. However, the wait for a second feature has been worthwhile: To Have And To Hold is as unusual and impressive as his first movie, carrying over Ghosts' commitment to rawness and extremes of emotion but adding a twisted romanticism and a lushness of style that fits an explicit updating of that bygone style of melodrama (The Letter, Black Narcissus) in which white ex-pats go mad in crumbling imperial outposts deep in a literal and metaphorical jungle.
Jack (Karyo), burned out after the mysterious death of his wife Rose (Anni Finsterer), travels from Papua New Guinea to Melbourne to buy the action videos he dupes and screens for the natives. He meets novelist Kate (Griffiths), whom he woos, marries and takes back to his shack in the jungle. However, the tropical idyll doesn't last long as Kate recognises echoes of the plots of Rebecca and Vertigo, and sinister supporting characters happen along and drop hints about what actually happened to the dead wife.
Hillcoat manages well the atmosphere and building tension as soap turns to suspense, abetted by excellent, understated performances from the leads. There is a subplot about a rising movement of outlaw violence among the Papuans, whose culture has been tainted by Jack's Rambo and Jackie Chan movies, but this is a film which concentrates on the hothouse of a tangled relationship and works towards a resolution at once romantic, tragic and chilling.