The Lowdown Under
June 9, 2015
A Hypnotic Mystery That Swirls In The Fraught Eddies Of Sexual Tension. Could Be Tighter, But Kidman Delivers.
Poor old Nicole gets a mighty truckload of shit from her compatriots down under and when you look at rot like Grace of Monaco, it might seem warranted, but I’ve always been fond of her more unhinged turns in psycho-sexual fare like The Paperboy, Stoker and recent thriller Before I Go To Sleep.
Kim Farrant’s hypnotic Stangerland falls into the latter category. Kidman stars as Catherine Parker who has just relocated to the fictional Nathgari, a hot and dusty, remote outback town with husband Matthew (Joseph Fiennes, English accent intact) and kids Lily (Maddison Brown) and Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton). There’s a palpable tension simmering under the not very happy family surface here, a skittish unease over barely concealed history, Lynch-style by way of Wake In Fright/Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Matthew hardly looks at Catherine, let alone touches her, while Lily’s burgeoning sexuality sees her hanging at the skate park, flirting with bad boys while her younger brother turns a blind eye. Trouble, it’s clear, is not far behind.
Soon after both kids disappear – Tommy sleepwalks, Lily follows for reasons unclear and Matthew, harbouring a grudge against his own daughter, simply stands by, watching them leave under cover of darkness. When they don’t show up the next day, Catherine is the first to panic as an impending sandstorm approaches. Matthew increasingly withdraws.
Hugo Weaving’s local cop Detective Rae is in charge of the subsequent search and investigation, but even he seems less than enthused. His dalliance with local indigenous woman Coreen (Lisa Flanagan) implicates him when the finger of blame points to Burtie, her handyman brother with learning difficulties who worked on the Parker property, played with raw honesty by an impressive Meyne Wyatt (Neighbours, The Sapphires).
Inexplicably, this is only the second time Weaving and Kidman have shared the big screen, with the first being 1989’s Bangkok Hotel. There’s a burning fire between them that’s purposefully missing from her screen-time with Fiennes. Hints of Lindy Chamberlain’s travails eventually lead home and as Catherine unravels, her fate is seemingly bound to her daughter’s illicit sexual escapades.
All of this confusion and sexual tension plays out against the striking backdrop of simultaneous beauty and niggling horror evoked by cinematographer PJ Dillon’s sweeping helicopter shots and extreme close ups of the scorched earth and small creatures of Australia’s red centre.
The script, from Fiona Seres and Michael Kinirons, gets stuck in a few repetitive beats, failing to fully capitalise on a few interesting angles, particularly an overt reference to the Rainbow Serpent from Coreen and the ominous warnings her grandmother who notes that sometimes children simply disappear here, but Farrant manages to cast a menacing spell nonetheless.
Kidman in particular is on fine form, showing once again proving she’s more suited to this sort of emotionally and morally complex material than the Hollywood starlet gigs, with a final act unveiling showing a quite admirable bravery.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords
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