Directed by: Kim Farrant
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Josheph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving
Matthew and Catherine, and their children Lilly and Tom, move to a small mining town in New South Wales to distance themselves from a scandal in their previous town. Tom is unsettled and prone to walking for miles at night, which Lilly, fifteen years old and revelling in her developing sexuality, is proving to be too hot to handle.
When both childred go missing, just as a huge dust storm hits the town, Cathering and Matthew struggle to come to terms with both their past and present situation and deal with the suspisions of the townsfolk…
Strangerland is a film many are going to find challenging and perplexing, especially if you’re expecting it to follow genre conventions.
The setting of the film is very integral to what happens. The town they are in is very small, barren, isolated. Surrounded by hundreds of miles of emptiness. It’s a town that seems to be barely functioning, and there is certainly nothing there for the younger generation to either do in the present or look forward to in the future. It is into this environment that fifteen year old Lilly and her younger brother Tom find themselves. The place that they hang out at is rather charitably described as a skatepark. We learn early on that this family has recently arrived in this town, and according to Tom its somehow Lilly’s fault. We learn later that she was involved in a sexual relationship with one of her teachers, Neal, and that Matthew beat him up when he found out. This is a highly disfunctional family.
The film steps up a little, first with the news that Lilly and Tom hadn’t gone to school and second with the impending dust storm that is about to engulf the town. It starts slow, with big swirls of dust rushig across the ground, but then we see a wide shot of the town with a huge tsunami of dust heading towards it. And when it hits, the whole town is engulfed and even the sun is all but blotted out. It’s a great cinematic moment and very, very eerie.
The disappearance of Lilly and Tom means involving the local police, headed up by Rae (Hugo Weaving). Rae does take his job seriously, but its clear that he is only used to dealing with the odd DUI or domestic disturbance. He’s on the verge of having to deal with a Major Crime and that changes his usual relaxed procedures. Things become even more complicated when Bertie, the autistic brother of his girlfriend, is implicated in the crime.
One of the key themes of the film is female sexuality and the way male-dominated society tries to repress it. Lilly shares the same free-spirited hedonistic approach tolife as her mother, and her own burgeoning experiences with sex are at odds with the hippocritic morals shouted by her father. When Catherine enters Lilly’s room after she’s disappeared, she embarks on an internal journey to try to connect with her daughter by trying on her clothes and makeup and even flirting with Bertie.
Meanwhile, Matthew is dealing with the situation in his own way – throwing himself into hisbusiness (he owns the local pharmacy), drinking too much and beatinig up people he thinks might have been involved with his daughter.
There are a number of contentious issues with this film, chief among them being how Niel, the teacher who got involved with Lilly in their old hometown, is treated by the film as a victim himself. The film doesn’t tell us exactly the nature of his relationship with Lilly but it was enough for Matthew to attack him and for Matthew to be the one to receive a criminal record as a result. When Matthew arrives at Neil’s to confront him, we discover that Neil’s wife has stood by him and that, actually, Matthew is the monster in their story.
Strangerland is an unconventional drama that leaves the viewer with few satisfying answers. That, coupled with the film’s measured pace mean its going o have its detractors but for others such as us at Flashbang it’s a dense, heavily textured portrayal of a family on the verge of destruction.
8 out of 10 (MIkeOutWest)