Catherine (Nicole Kidman) Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) and their two children Lily (Maddison Brown) and Tom (Nicholas Hamilton) are new to the small Australian town of Nathgari. It is clear that the family is hiding from their past but until Tom and Lily go missing one night, and Catherine desperately tries to find her children, it is not clear just what their past holds, and the secrets they are keeping from one another.
Strangerland is an atmospheric film that tries to be a thriller with a wide appeal but, thanks to some odd pacing and a mixed tone, the film comes off as less impactful as it aims to be.
Nicole Kidman once again tries to distance herself from the glamorous characters she has played in the past; Catherine is a woman who feels real and almost always relatable, although her motivations are almost always slightly skewed. Kidman has shaken off the tics she cultivated throughout her career and it is almost possible to forget just who we are watching on screen; letting the character take centre stage. Joseph Fiennes has less to do, and never manages to make his character’s wild swings in personality feel coherent or part of the character. Hugo Weaving brings warmth and heart to the film as Rae, the police officer investigating the case. The rest of the cast features Maddison Brown, Nicholas Hamilton and Lisa Flanagan.
The story, written by Michael Kinirons and Fiona Seres is the simple story of two children simply leaving their home one night and the search to bring them back. The film brings up all kinds of issues, such as the reason why the family had to move, the hint of sexual abuse and the fact that Catherine and Joseph’s marriage is failing as possible reasons for this desertion. As well as this, and in a less interesting plot point, Matthew consistently brings up the notion that their daughter is wild because her mother was too. Not only does this feel like a cop out, but also an insult to women who don’t always do what society wants them to.
Director Kim Farrant struggles with the 112 minute running time, with parts of the story galloping along, before the film grinds to a halt. There is the hint that ‘the land’ has taken the children, but this is not so much dismissed as ignored and, although we are clear from the outset that we are probably not going to get any answers here, the film drags its heels so much that it would be nice to get that lack of an answer sooner. That said, the cinematography of the film is stunning, but while this backs up the idea that the land indeed had a part to play, this is again dismissed.
In all, Strangerland tries to be a psychological thriller with a distinctly Australian feel, but although the cast do their best, the pacing of the film is so drawn out that the lack of answer feels less like a choice than a lack of ideas.