By Staci Layne Wilson
Aussies make the best “child in peril” movies. The first one I remember seeing was A Cry in the Dark starring Meryl Streep, which came out in 1988. Then of course there’s the classic Walkabout (1971) from the child’s perspective, featuring a very young Jenny Agutter as a girl wandering the Outback. More recently, and quite disturbing, was In Her Skin (2009) starring Guy Pearce, based on the tragic true story of a murdered teen. And now comes Strangerland with Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes as the parents of two teenagers who are missing in the vast wilderness beyond the borders of the desert town Nathgari.
New to the neighborhood, the Parker family is soon cast into crisis when Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) discover their kids Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) and Lily (Maddison Brown) have mysteriously disappeared. Making matters worse, a devastating, darkening dust storm hits the town, wiping out any and all possible clues. Undeterred, local cop David Rae (Hugo Weaving) takes on the case – and a lot more than he bargained for when he finds out not only is young Lily turbulent and promiscuous… so is her mother.
From the interesting prospective of a female director (this is Kim Farrant’s debut feature), Strangerland is presented through a prism of womanly wantoness juxtaposed with a mother’s pain and fear. The Parker family is dysfunctional to say the least, but they’re presented in a real, and ultimately sympathetic way.
As far as the mystery aspect goes, it’s quite absorbing. On the surface, it makes sense the kids probably just ran away – forced to move to a small, boring town by their parents in hopes of quelling Lily’s wild ways, their resentment and restlessness is understandable. But then strange clues start to surface, making one wonder if some kind of foul play isn’t to blame.
The cast is incredibly apt, but it’s Weaving who steals the show as the detective who has secrets of his own. On top of that, the mood and atmosphere of Strangerland is thick with sultry eeriness. Even when the burn grows slow (sometimes too slow) it still glows with intrigue. P.J. Dillon’s unflinching birds-eye cinematography shows off the harsh, Australian landscape to awesome advantage, and the score by Keefus Ciancia is subtle yet unrelenting.
Strangerland isn’t a quick paced, fun thriller by any means – and you have to be in the right sort of mood for it – but once it grabs you, you won’t be able to look away.
1 Hour 52 Minutes
Get times and tickets at Fandango.com.
STRANGERLAND Review — Evil Doings Down Under