HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:80
I grew up when Nicole Kidman was a superstar, many times pairing with then husband, Tom Cruise. Even after the two of them split up, Nicole managed to be a powerhouse of an actress. The last decade has given her more chance to mature, and she has stepped out of the blockbuster spotlight (on her volition) in order to purse more passion projects in her older age. She’s paid her dues to the film making community, made money and now she’s free to do WHAT she likes acting wise. Going back to her home country of Australia, “Strangerland” is a bleak and frightful piece on what grief can do to people. I will say that I can understand why this movie can frustrate some viewers. We have been raised with films and stories that have a distinct ending, but “Strangerland” shies away from the traditional, and uses a meandering style of film making to take a look under the skins of people, to analyze how they react under different circumstances, and what makes that person THEM underneath all of what society piles on us.
The Parker family seems a fairly normal Aussie family. Father, Mathew Parker (Joseph Fiennes) is a pharmacist and he and his wife Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and their two children, Lily (Maddison Brown) and Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) have just moved to the small town in the outback. While it’s not clear at first WHAT is causing tension, the family seems on edge. Tommy is a responsible, but quite young lad, while Matthew is constantly strained and looks like he’s about to chew nails. It’s pretty obvious that 15 year old Lily is a bit of a hypersexual girl who’s just starting to realize that she’s becoming a woman (which certainly explains a stressed out dad), while poor Catherine looks lost and rather lonely. This tension is about to create something dramatic, but it’s not exactly clear WHAT will be the catalyst, or inciting incident. However a sandstorm hitting the town after Lily and Tommy leave for school that morning will throw the entire town into chaos when the two children are nowhere to be found by the end of the day.
As the local Sheriff (played by Hugo Weaving) investigates, it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems. The Parkers are put under a microscope and the sins of their past gets brought into the life. Their move to the backwater town is not exactly an accident, as the family was moving away from a scandal in suburban life. Lily was more than just a LITTLE hypersexual for a 15 year old and had had an affair with a married professor at her school. It also appears that Lily hadn’t stopped her sordid ways when she got to the outback. Instead she’s the unspoken “tramp” of the high school boys, and even boys a bit over that age. The Parker’s relationships start to implode as Catherine and Matthew’s already strained marriage has to deal with the stress of two children missing. Tempers run hot and rumors start propagating like flies. The town starts to suspect the parents of something more insidious, and even the Sheriff is having a hard time keeping an objective head.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=52106[/img]To say that “Strangeland” is nothing short of fascinating is an understatement. The narrative structure is a tad odd, though. The film focuses on different characters, at different points of the movie, in a sort of meandering way. Focuses shift from Lily and Tommy, to Chatherine, to Matthew, to the Sheriff, back again to the others at random. Watching them carefully, you see how each person handles a stressful situation. The Sheriff is hardnosed and persistent, using his past sorrows to fuel the intensity that he uses to search for the two children. Matthew is a raw nerve. Angry at his daughter’s past indiscretions, he has a difficult time believing that she isn’t running away by her own volition and thumbing her nose at them all. As it becomes more clear that something else is afoot, his demeanor changes, but not his rage and anger. He directs it in a funnel cone of hate towards whoever is standing in his way and keeping this father from his child. Catherine is the most complex, and certainly played fantastically by Nicole. She stands in the background most of the time, and if you watch her face you can see the pain, the anger, the frustration and the sympathy for her daughter all wash over her face at different portions of the movie. She’s been in her daughter’s shoes before, and even though as a mother she can’t condone her daughter’s actions, a sympathetic feeling grows within her. Her marriage to Matthew isn’t exactly roses and sugar plums, as the two of them stay in separate rooms. There also lies a bed of resentinment, as everyone and their mother notices the over indulgence of her daughters burgeoning sexuality, but her own husband is oblivious to the desperate needs of her own, causing even more tension and frustration in their familial life.
I can understand fully why some people may be a bit put off by the narrative structure of “Strangerland”. It doesn’t follow your typical three act story method and the ending itself can raise a few eyebrows. I’m firmly in the camp that believes that director Kim Farrant MEANT for a sort of ambiguous ending to take place, as the whole hunt for the children was never the main point. Instead we are focusing on the characters themselves that are left. Howe they handle grief and how those life changes affect the people around them. The missing children is merely an inciting incident. What happens AFTER that moment is the true story.
Rated R for language, some sexuality and brief graphic nudity
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=52114[/img]Shot in Australia, “Strangerland” sports a simply fantastic looking 2.40:1 AVC encoded transfer. The Australian landscape is simple magnificent, and the picture is saturated with deep reds, oranges and earth browns, all mixed together into a stew pot of dust and dirt. The bright orange and red hues dominate the screen in all their burnished glory, but primary shades also pop through on occasion, like the green grass, or the stream of crimson blood across Catherine’s face after she’s stumbling through the streets. Black levels are deep and inky, but do suffer a bit from some crush now and again. Fine detail is excellent and I didn’t notice any wide shots looking exceptionally soft. A fantastic transfer from beginning to end.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=52122[/img]The audio track for “Strangerland” is decidedly a dramatic track. With that in mind the front heavy experience is quite pleasing, with plenty of attention made to the dialogue as well as some fantastic ambient elements in the surrounds and mains. The track shows excellent directionality as you can hear the chirping of bugs shift direction and come at you depending on what direction the characters are facing. LFE is tight and strong, but never extremely powerful, although are some surprise moments that made me sit up in my chair a little bit. Surround activity is impressive, and the immersion fact never left me wanting (that moment where Catherine and Matthew are heading up to the search party particularly made me notice). Overall it’s a very good track, with a consistent sound stage that compliments the theatrical mix quite nicely.
• Cast Featurette
• Story Featurette
“Strangerland” is a fascinating, if not slightly flawed, take on the effects of grief and heightened emotions during a time of intense stress. The story is a bit meandering, and intentionally ambiguous, but there are some pacing issues during the last 1/3 of the movie that stretch the hour and 52 minute runtime a bit too far, in my opinion. This still doesn’t take anything away from the very solid performances by the three main leads and leaves the viewer with haunting layer of sadness after the credits role. The audio and video presentations are good, if not downright excellent at times, making this a definite watch for those of you who like slow paced dramas.
Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving
Directed by: Kim Farrant
Written by: Michael Kinirons, Fiona Seres
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Runtime: 112 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 18th, 2015
Buy Strangerland On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Check It Out
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