Nicole Kidman gives it her all in this atmospheric but underwhelming Australian melodrama
Hot, sweaty and combustible, Kim Farrant’s narrative feature debut Strangerland is an outback melodrama that, for a while, hides its secrets well. Nicole Kidman, back on home soil for the first time since Baz Luhrmann’s 2008 epic Australia, joins Joseph Fiennes at the fore as the pair play Catherine and Matthew Parker, a married couple who have moved to a rural backwater from Canberra with their two teenage children, Tom (Nicholas Hamilton) and the older Lily (Maddison Brown).
Both offspring turn out to be troubled: Tom has a habit of sleepwalking; while Lily, it’s later revealed, had sexual relations with her teacher back in Canberra, hence the relocation. On the eve of a huge dust-storm – vividly realised when it does hit the town – both these youngsters disappear into the desert. Cue a town-wide panic, as Matthew boils with rage and Catherine gradually breaks down, her behaviour growing increasingly off-the-wall.
Trying to help them in their hour of need is Hugo Weaving’s straight-talking cop Rae, and adding to the confusion is the presence of skateboarding punk Steve (Sean Keenan) and local Aboriginal youth Burtie (Meyne Wyatt), brother to Rae’s current squeeze – both of whom were drawn towards the missing Lily.
Scripted by Michael Kinirons and Fiona Seres, the film finds itself straining for poetic meaning; it desperately wants to be thought of in the same vein as Peter Weir’s seminal Aussie drama Picnic at Hanging Rock, but it falls far short. Still, Farrant shows she has the chops to conjure an unsettling atmosphere and, in Kidman, she has an admirably willing participant – an actress up for stripping herself bare, both physically and psychologically. Fiennes, an actor who deserves to be seen more than he is, is also on good form. The result won’t astound but it will intrigue – at least for a time.
Selected release from Fri 5 Feb.