As World War II nears its end, the children of a fleeing Nazi officer - led by eldest sister Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) - must make a 900km journey across Germany to reach their grandparents' home. The fascist beliefs instilled in them are strong. But the horror and hardship the encounter on the way causes Lore's world view to change. Rosendahl's mesmerising performance and the objectivity brought by Australian director Cate Shortland are reason enough to see this impressive adaptation of Rachel Seiffert's harrowing novel The Dark Room.
It seems not all tales of blue-eyed German children crossing hill and dale to escape their parents' involvement in the war are alive with the sound of music.
Indeed, this absorbing adaptation of novelist Rachel Seiffert's The Dark Room more often resounds to the cries of starving babies and family pets being shot.
It's not the most obvious material for an Australian director whose previous and only feature, Somersault, was a tiny indie romance made back in 2004 and notable largely for launching the careers of Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington.
Yet with a firm sense of purpose and objectivity, Cate Shortland makes an impressive fist of bringing Seiffert's Booker-shortlisted debut to the screen.
It's Spring 1945, and high ranking Nazis are on the run as the Allies sweep through Germany. As the eldest of five, Lore (the astonishing Saskia Rosendahl) is ordered by her mother, the wife of an SS officer, to take her younger siblings - including the baby - to their grandparents' house in distant Hamburg.
When we meet Lore (as in 'Laura'), she has been completely indoctrinated by her parents. But as she witnesses the legacy of Nazism first-hand and makes an uneasy allegiance with an enigmatic Jewish youth, the journey proves to be her ideological and sexual awakening.
But Lore's story is just the focal point of a bigger picture that shows that Hitler's downfall did not immediately transform Germany into a land of milk and honey.
The odyssey takes us through a realm riven by fear and suspicion, the uncertainty plain to see in both 'liberated' and liberators alike. It's here that the film needs a certain detachment, and as a non-European, Shortland provides it.
But while prone to arty lingering when the time would have been better spent plugging gaps in the narrative, Shortland slathers the story in enough mud and horror to make it a compellingly visceral experience. That, and the phenomenal Rosendahl.