2014 | Australia/Ireland | Directed by Kim Farrant
Logline: A couple that has moved to a remote outback town find themselves at wit’s end when their two teenage children go missing.
The debut feature from a former documenteur, and it’s a mystery-drama smothered in the dust-laden atmosphere of the great Australian red desert. It’s a classic tale of rebellion and betrayal, of innocence and promiscuity, of the wounded and the living, of the present and the missing. Strangerland won’t be every person’s cup of tea, but for those who like those delicate moments in between Strangerland offers a darkened bounty.
The Parkers, Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) are struggling to hold on to their marriage. He is irritable and disinterested, she is frustrated and mournful, together they are depressed, but functioning. Their two children, Lily (Maddison Brown) and Tommy (Nicolas Hamilton), are a handful. Ten-year-old Tommy likes to wander the empty streets at night, and fifteen-year-old Lily yearns for sexual intimacy.
It is Lily’s prior behavior that has prompted the move from the city. She was involved with her schoolteacher. The local boys take advantage of her loose morals. One night Lily follows Tommy on one of his jaunts. Matthew watches them slink off, his contempt for his daughter leaving him devoid of responsible parenting.
The next morning they’ve vanished. The night has swallowed them. This drives a wedge between Catherine and Matthew and their ugly past rears its head, as local detective David Rae (Hugo Weaving) tries to make sense of the disappearance.
With a brooding soundtrack from Keefus Ciancia and stunning cinematography from P.J. Dillon, Strangerland is infused with a resonant and mesmerising mise-en-scene. The heat-soaked imagery and sweaty indecision permeates the characters as they struggle within their emotional turmoil. Catherine slowly loses the plot, as Matthew begins to unravel, and both resort to bad habits.
The performances are top notch, especially Nicole Kidman, whose bravura display of naked vulnerability and cracked resilience is amongst the best work of her career, up with Dead Calm, To Die For, Dogville, and The Human Stain. Hugo Weaving, although in a fairly thankless role, still owns his scenes, he’s just one of those reliably watchable actors. Also props to the young actors, especially Maddison Brown, she’s definitely one to watch.
Echoing the untouchable Picnic at Hanging Rock, Strangerland is a mystery that becomes less about the actual mystery and more about the people close to it, dealing with the event. This is ultimately a sad story about a crumbling marriage, and how extraordinary pressure can create a dangerous force of human frailty.