Kim Farrant’s Strangerland is a beautiful looking film, that burns brightly on the screen with its sandy location in the Australia desert and taking advantage of the red-hot sun which mirrors the passionate and intense feelings of the characters in the story.
Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) have just moved their family to the desert town of Nathgari with their teenagers, Lily (Maddison Brown) and Tom (Nicholas Hamilton). Little is known about the family other than that they get on their own business and have tried to integrate into town life as smoothly as possible. But a burden is shadowing the family, secrets have been kept and a crisis forced them to move from their lives to the middle of nowhere. Matthew and Tom both have strained relationships with Lily, but nothing is said of their previous lives. Catherine spends each day trying to keep it together although something is bubbling under the surface.
One day, as a dust storm is about to hit, both Lily and Tom go missing and it seems that everything Catherine and Matthew have tried to hide will unveil itself in a way that will tear about this family and the townspeople around then. At first, other join a local officer, Rae (Hugo Weaving) in trying to find the siblings but as time goes on and the heat swelters, secrets are revealed and paranoia grows and soon the public’s opinions turns against Catherine and Matthew who have to find their children alone.
Farrant’s film from the start lets the audience know that there is something dark and mysterious about the town and the people living there. A sense of claustrophobia and alienation grows throughout the film, which is ironic considering they have the wide expanse of the desert around them but without the others in the town offering to help, the central couple find their lives in a free fall. They find themselves pushed hard and are looking for ways to survive themselves as well as finding Lily and Tom.
Strangerland is an interesting film with so much going for it – an intriguing story that takes place in one town and manages to involve everyone living there. Oddly it starts to take the form of a locked in mystery, but their are locked into the town rather than one room. Plus the performances, especially from Kidman and Fiennes are fantastic from start to finish – the only issue is that despite good performances, there lacks the chemistry needed between the pair to make the central couple as sympathetic as the story needs them to be to the audience. There doesn’t seem to be the ability to play off of one another that is required and both Kidman and Fiennes seem to be rummaging through finding their best performances in their own rights.
Part Twin Peaks and part Top of the Lake, Strangerland is fully committed to creating a tough atmosphere – a noir thriller set in the desert and whilst the story itself is interesting, it lacks the final punch that is so well set up.