Strange and Bland.

A look at the film ‘Strangerland’ directed by Kim Farrant.

Atmosphere; everything needs it to live. In planetary terms, life cannot survive unless there’s an atmosphere for it to breathe and live in. In entertainment terms, atmosphere is required to make our interest survive.

Some films lack atmosphere and just keep you chugging along like you’re on life-support. These are usually dull, by-the-numbers affairs that, if you didn’t unplug part way through, leave you feeling flat and uninterested.

But there are some that excel, providing so much that sometimes it’s hard to breathe. A great example of this is ‘The Strangers’ by Bryan Bertino. While not terribly popular, it is undoubtedly one of the most tense films I’ve ever seen. Just the sense of dread and the foreboding that hangs over you as you watch what the characters experience is so tangible. Not since I last saw an Adam Sandler movie have I ever felt such a sense of misery and hopelessness.

This leads me into todays title in question. ‘Strangerland’ was an impulse viewing. You see names like Nicole Kidman, and Hugo Weaving pop up and it conjures images of something relatively powerful. I had no fore-knowledge of the film and had no idea what to expect. I went in completely blind.

The first thing it tells us is that this was a joint venture by the Australians and the Irish. I’m quite a big fan of films that come from Australia and New Zealand as they seem to understand the formula for intriguing cinema. The TV shows might be painful but their cinematic efforts are where they really shine.

And as the film began to slowly open, it hinted at an atmospheric and artsy flick that would take us on an amazing journey. It was vague but compelling, giving us questions upon questions and nothing to answer them but with the expectation that an explanation must be due.

We are given a couple, Kidman and Fiennes, who appear to have a few issues. Their young son wanders around on his own in the middle of the night and their slightly older daughter is a harlot who flaunts herself about and will do anything with anyone so long as it pleases her.

After a little bit if mistrust and disagreements, both kids go walking off one night and then promptly vanish. This sets up the film to do its thing. And its ‘thing’ is to have Fiennes be a little stiff and uninteresting, Kidman go completely off her nut and start overacting in a horribly distracting manner and Weaving being left to pick up the pieces as one of the few characters who seems to hint at being halfway believable.

I’m not a Nicole Kidman hater. I actually think she’s done a very good job in a great many films. While I admit that she should probably lay-off the botox a bit (I’ve seen likenesses in Tussaud’s with greater facial movement) she’s quite attractive when she wants to be and usually helps to enhance films in which she stars.

But this felt like she was a detriment to the production. Okay, I get that her character is meant to be unstable, but her portrayal of this went well beyond what I’d have accepted as a realistic reaction to the trauma her character faced.

This is equally the fault of the screenwriters for it is they who give the characters their propensity for talking complete nonsense. These people, whether they be under extreme stress or not, never allow their actions or words stray too far into the realm of plausibility.

Up until the solitary, individual plot point (vanishing kids), everything holds together well. But what should have been the catalyst for some spectacular drama pans out to be the point where it all falls apart. The pacing goes to hell, the point of the film gets muddled and lost and the atmosphere just bleeds away into nothing.

The director must have been aware of this. Nobody can be so blind or so full of self-achievement to not see that what they’re doing is going off the rails. This film didn’t just derail, it flipped off the rails, landed sideways, went end over end, mounted a nearby platform and then exploded. It’s an ugly mess that needs to be investigated so mistakes can be leaned from and repeats avoided.

Perhaps the director was aware of the problem and made things worse by trying to fix it. One of the big problems with the pacing comes from the many artsy, low depth-of-field or scenic shots that litter the film. They are trying to add atmosphere to what must have looked like a vague and disjointed film in the editing suite. But they fail because while you’re subjected these filler shots, all you can think about is what time it is and how long you’ve been watching it.

The two-hour runtime is so bonkers long for what you get it’s insulting. This could easily have been a forty-five minute episode of something, or possibly a slightly padded eighty-minute film without overstaying its welcome, but two-hours? It’s highly reminiscent of those awful rock songs from the sixties and seventies that have roughly three-mins of worthwhile song bookending eight-mins of random electric guitar and/or organ solos.

There’s no real music for the soundtrack, rather it is a series of discordant or desolate tones with some occasional low, woofer-troubling pounding. This would have been better placed in a mystery film or a thriller or a tense and edge-of-your-seat feature to unsettle you a bit. For ‘Strangerland’, it is wasted and eventually just gets a bit annoying.

And if all of that isn’t enough to make want to give this disaster of a film the cold shoulder, how about an ending that either is as unsatisfying as being given two peas and a chip for dinner and being told that’s your three-course meal, or just completely absent from the film completely?

I don’t mind an open-ended film occasionally. Sometimes it’s a great excuse for a post-movie conversation and we, the viewers, can interpret it how we wish and get involved.

No so much for this film. It’s a lot like ‘No Country for Old Men’ in the sense that you’ve got a bit where two people are having a conversation and then before you’ve even had a chance to think about what might come next, the end credits are rolling.

If what you want is atmosphere, let a balloon deflate in your face. At least you’ll feel the gentle breeze and – on the basis you can giggle at things like a ten-year-old – the silly noise it makes will give you chuckle. ‘Strangerland’ will fail to do either for you. Thus, a deflating balloon has infinitely more appeal than this film.

So mote it be.

A reason why you should watch it: You’re looking to remake a film and want something that was left horribly incomplete to inspire you to achieve better.

A reason why you shouldn’t watch it: Because the nudey Nicole Kidman bit is nowhere near as exciting as you imagine it will be.

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