Strangerland, an Irish-Australian co-production, is very nearly a great thriller. So sayeth my Sunday Independent review.
FEW landscapes brew an ambience of warped unease quite like Australia. Way before Wolf Creek (2005) or Bad Boy Bubby (1993) creeped us out in the Outback, Ted Kotcheff’s Wake In Fright (1971) held a disturbing mirror up to rural Down Under, while Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout banished us on an unnerving dream quest the very same year.
That sense of arid weirdness is alive and well under director Kim Farrant who, along with writers Fiona Seres and Irishman Michael Kinirons, make a strong case for safe suburban mundanity.
Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes are Catherine and Matthew Parker, whose ailing marriage is kicked while it’s down after their teenage son and waifish daughter go missing in mysterious circumstances. Dust storms, local delinquents and small-town gossip offer no help to their search and the investigations of noble local cop David (Hugo Weaving). That said, there are things unspoken by the couple that suggest they may not be helping themselves either. All the while, the uncompromising desert environment has a stopwatch on the youngsters’ dwindling survival odds.
Award-winning Kerry cinematographer PJ Dillon understands the terrain’s role in all this but also that of the kitchen sink and hall door. Between its creeping tempo, eerie imagery and committed performances (Kidman excels), Strangerland is a perfectly serviceable dose of Outback gothica. Unfortunately, there are moments in the third act where it flirts with all-out silliness and nearly derails because of it.
First published in the Sunday Independent