Sundance Review: “Strangerland” Has Impressive Performances But No Resolution
Director: Kim Farrant
Screenwriter: Fiona Seres and Michael Kinirons
Principal Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Lisa Flanagan, Meyne Wyatt, and Maddison Brown
Sometimes I feel like Nicole Kidman doesn’t always get the credit she deserves when it comes to acting. I’m sure that picking some less than stellar roles doesn’t really help, but it also means that sometimes she gets overlooked which is a shame. However, she seems to find good movies at Sundance, which means there is hope for her yet. Last year it was Stoker that had a great performance by Kidman, and I was curious to see if she could replicate it. However, unlike Stoker where her character didn’t want anything to do with her children, in Strangerland it was implied that she would do anything to get her missing children back.
Strangerland might boast impressive performances by Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes, but they ultimately don’t lead anywhere and there is no resolution for anyone.
Our story follows Catherine Parker (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) and their two children Lily (Maddison Brown) and Tommy (Nicolas Hamilton) as they try to adjust to a new town. No one in the family is very happy, but it seems to be Lily and Tommy who are having the hardest time adjusting. Lily is very sexual despite her young age and seems inclined to sleep with anyone who will take the time, while Tommy suffers from horrible insomnia and he walks for most of the night. Catherine and Matthew’s marriage is in shambles due to the move, and it gets even worse when Lily and Tommy vanish. Catherine, Matthew, and Detective David Rae (Hugo Weaving) find themselves racing against time as the children can only survive so long in the desert alone.
Allow me to touch on the good before I get to the bad. As I said Nicole Kidman has just an amazing performance in this movie. She doesn’t quite channel the crazy from Stoker, but it is pretty close. Catherine is the more emotional of the two parents as Matthew was more inclined to think that they’re just giving the kids (Lily in particular) the attention they crave. As time goes on Catherine becomes more and more unhinged. The tension moves from “will these kids survive?” to “ when is Catherine going to snap?” It’s a great switch because we never see the kids. This is something I really liked about the movie because we get to see this exclusively from the perspective of the parents which we don’t always see. Kidman sells the hell out of a mother slowly being driven to the edge as she not only tries to find out where her kids are, but also what made Lily act the way she does.
Joseph Fiennes might be more well known to younger audiences from his role in American Horror Story, but he also had roles in Enemy at the Gates, and puts in the other interesting performance. Matthew starts out the movie angry at his children, especially about the way that Lily keeps acting out. For most of the movie he is extremely reserved, but Fiennes manages to show how stressed out Matthew is with the little ticks. It’s a very subtle performance and I enjoyed it a lot. I was also pleased to see Hugo Weaving in a protagonist role where he didn’t have to wear pointy ears. Weaving is the town Detective who is not only trying to find these kids, but also keep the Parker family from imploding while simultaneously trying to stay out of the way.
All of these performances are lovely and I did enjoy that we don’t know the fates of the kids aside from some brief dreams that Catherine keeps having. However, the movie just didn’t feel very complete to me. There is a very good reason for that. I considered the ending a complete cop out, but there is almost no resolution for any of the characters. Their small town has been watching the Parker’s all lose their minds, and we never see if that gets fixed. There are entire plot threads that are abandoned with no looking back.
All of this adds up to almost nothing happening over the length of 111 minutes. The movie just seemed to go on and on as there continues to be no clues as to where the children have gone. The more interesting part of the movie, the deteriorating psyches of Catherine and Matthew, is much more interesting compared to the thriller part. I would have enjoyed the movie a lot more if it was just watching someone slowly fall apart. They spend a majority of act two hinting about something terrible that has happened in the past that is never answered. It annoyed me so much that they just ignored this answer when they spent so much time building it up. It was the thing that kept the plot moving for the most part and it’s never resolved.
It wasn’t until I sat down to look at some information on the official Sundance app on my phone while working on this that I finally found out where this movie was taking place. I’ve been pretty sleep deprived, but I’m almost positive they never mentioned they were in Australia. This might be one of those things where I was getting annoyed by something that really wasn’t that important, but every single time anyone was outside I just wanted to yell that I wanted to know where this was taking place. For some reason not knowing kept pulling me out of the movie, because if it was the Southern United States the cars were wrong and I knew this was funded by an Irish company, but it didn’t take place in Ireland. It bothered me probably more than it should, but if your viewer can’t even establish where your movie is taking place then you’re having some narrative problems.
Strangerland is the worst kind of movie to review because there are plenty of things that I liked, but when I walked out of the theater I felt strangely unfulfilled. If you want to see a great performance by Nicole Kidman where she goes more than a little insane you’re better off watching Stoker.