Film InkCara Nash
June 17, 2015
“…a provocative and powerful look at grief and the strange ways we can react in times of crisis…”
As far as Australian filmmakers and bold directorial debuts go, the recent Sydney Film Festival was the place to be. From Simon Stone’s emotionally devastating The Daughter to Brendan Cowell’s dark comedy Ruben Guthrie, these films all had gutsy things to say and explore. That’s also the case with Kim Farrant’s Strangerland, a provocative and powerful look at grief and the strange ways we can react in times of crisis, which is screening in cinemas for one week following its festival premiere.
We’re introduced to Matthew and Catherine Parker (Joseph Fiennes and Nicole Kidman), just as they’ve relocated to a small town in the Australian outback with their two kids, 15-year-old Lily (Maddison Brown) and the younger Tom (Nicholas Hamilton). They’ve barely finished unpacking the boxes, and we can already see the cracks in family relations – Lily seems to be a flirtatious, rebellious soul, which rubs her stern father the long way. Depressed about being forced to live in a “shithole of a town”, both children escape one night, and don’t return the next morning. Matthew and Catherine employ the help of a local cop (Hugo Weaving) and as the chances of survival plummet with each passing day, the couple find themselves pushed to the brink, and family secrets unravel.
There’s no doubting that Farrant has a gift for mood, building a sense of dread, isolation and gaping sadness that threatens to swallow everyone whole. Strangerland is a challenging watch, but it’s also wholly compelling, and that’s largely owing to the superb performances across the board. Kidman is in fearless form as Catherine, a woman wracked with pain, guilt, self-doubt and a desperate need for connection – whether that be with her emotionally cold husband, the town’s empathetic cop or her wayward daughter, who she questions how much she is like. As always, Weaving is solid as an inherently decent cop trying to navigate his way through increasingly complex moral territory, while one feels Fiennes’ Matthew may implode because of all the repressed rage he’s carrying around.
The film’s striking setting is indeed an effective one, but it’s also one that feels slightly familiar. The idea that the Australian outback is a dangerous and unknowable landscape is one that has populated many a local film, and while Farrant introduces ideas about the spiritual connection to the land of indigenous people, these ideas are never fully fleshed out. The filmmaker, however, bravely refuses to offer any type of closure – which is fitting given the many heartbreaking, haunting questions her central protagonists are left to live with.