The Daughter (4 stars)

The Daughter

Odessa Young impresses in Simon Stone’s searing adaptation of the Ibsen play

After helming a superb segment of 2013 Australian portmanteau drama The Turning, actor-turned-filmmaker Simon Stone makes his feature debut with this reworking of Henrik Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck (which he previously directed for the stage). The film’s title is deliberately reductive, alluding to the sins of the fathers which drive the narrative, but Hedvig (an astonishing Odessa Young), the daughter in question, is no mere pawn.

The emotional heart of this drama, Hedvig is also a multi-faceted, well-drawn protagonist, a punky teenager dividing her time between adolescent pursuits and helping grandfather Walter (Sam Neill) tend to his many wounded animals. She also enjoys a great relationship with her mother Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and father Oliver (Ewen Leslie), until Oliver’s troubled childhood friend Christian (Paul Schneider) returns for the wedding of his father Henry (Geoffrey Rush), and sets into motion a cataclysmic series of events.

The film opens and closes with two gunshots – both deliberate, both impactful – which bookend the disclosure of long-held confidences that bind together two families at opposite ends of an economically depressed Australian logging town. Themes of hardship, disloyalty and loss are augmented by some exquisite cinematography by Andrew Commis – the stunning beauty of the landscape in stark contrast to the ugly affairs that unfold within its claustrophobic confines – and Mark Bradshaw’s haunting, evocative score, which is often expertly used in place of dialogue.

Editor Veronika Jenet deserves equal plaudits, her quick cuts between – and time shifts within – scenes, together with the disorienting overlaying of dialogue, add to the sense of alienation and displacement that fuels Christian’s destructive behaviour, and underscores the film’s desperate denouement.

Of course, such tales of familial secrets and lies are nothing new in cinema: ‘Everyone’s got a story like this,’ acknowledges Walter to his son. But, in the hands of such accomplished filmmakers and performers, The Daughter eschews melodrama to become a searing, poignant and devastating study of the seismic power of betrayal.

Selected release from Fri 27 May.


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