Strangerland full movie review - Not stellar, yet nowhere near as bad as some have made out.
SPOILER ALERT - Some aspects to the storyline are mentioned below.
Clearly this was supposed to be a revisit of Picnic At Hanging Rock, given the underlying themes of sexual repression, isolated landscapes, mysterious disappearances, multiple suspects and suspicions, and unresolved endings. Obviously though, judging from the many scathing reviews of the ending, some just can't abide any film that doesn't package up a nice neat finale that resolves everything perfectly, because hey, that's how life really works, right?
As for the ridiculous nitpicking over detail by one reviewer, seriously, do you have any idea of the tight budgets and restrictions Australian film-makers have to deal with? It was obvious that different settings were used - so what? Even major Hollywood projects with hundreds of millions of dollars can be pulled apart over minute details - just suspend disbelief and go with the flow. As for points such as sleeping under a doona in the desert - seriously, have you ever spent time in the outback? It can be 40 degrees during the middle of the day yet near freezing at night!
The one part though that I really did take issue with is the whole rainbow serpent thing and Kidman's supposed ignorance on the matter. I mean, c'mon, not every Australian is a walking talking expert on Aboriginal folklore, but just about EVERYONE has heard of the rainbow serpent in some capacity or another, starting from school. This part was clearly thrown in to help educate foreign viewers of the film.
Another sore point was that the desert landscapes depicted were so markedly different at various points that it detracted from the very point being made about the sheer isolation of living in the outback. One minute it looks from ground level as if they were living in a flat and featureless region, the next we're being shown aerial views that give the impression of having been shot in the heart of the MacDonald ranges of central Australia and its rocky barren hills. That's not the truth - I believe these parts were filmed in the Broken Hill area, which I know well. The point is that it was very inconsistent - billiard table flat from the human perspective while driving or walking around for the most part, craggy and forbidding tors as far as the slow and sweeping bird's eye view was concerned. Clearly the director wanted the Kubrick effect from the opening sequence in The Shining, and flying along over a flat landscape wouldn't have worked in that respect.
Overall, while I think the writer and director failed to tie all the major threads together in an entirely satisfactory way, I found the film a pretty decent depiction of the claustrophobic aspects to living in small and isolated outback communities and the stresses that can come to bear when highly personal issues come to the fore for all to view and dissect. Interestingly, most of those who seemed to miss the point come from large cities in Australia or densely populated nations like the USA. There is next to no isolation that's quite the same as living in a remote outback community in Australia - I worked and lived in one of the most isolated of all, a small opal mining town only a few hundred kilometers south of Uluru. The one or two cops in town tend to bend a lot of rules and look the other way simply to maintain some sort of social life for their families, otherwise they'd be completely ostracized. An affair or issue like the one depicted with the daughter having a fling with a teacher would scandalize the entire township and make it perfectly understandable that a family would up stakes and move elsewhere to look for new beginnings, as depicted in Strangerland. And for new people in town, how the locals choose to react to your presence can make or break your time there and hinge on the merest of things, such as how your children blend in at school. That's all captured very well in the film.
For those who don't seem to understand the sexual aspects to Kidman's character, clearly she's supposed to be a formerly promiscuous woman who's sense of self-worth in part comes from how desirous men find her. From the very beginning of the film there's obviously an undercurrent of hostility running through the relationship with the couple, and as with the daughter the husband's passive-aggressive means of dealing with his wife is to emotionally withdraw from her. When she seeks reassurance in their relationship through sex he for the most part denies her. She then looks for it via her daughter's boyfriend, then desperately from Hugo Weaving's character, dissolving into her hysterical rant about 'what's wrong with me?' when even he, though obviously interested, backs away because he realizes how much she's breaking down psychologically under the strains of her missing children and the alienation from her husband.
As for those who seem to think it's utterly unbelievable that either of the men wouldn't naturally want to take advantage of the opportunity, such a notion is beyond description regarding the sexism that it reeks of. Men can and do frequently keep it zipped when the opportunities present themselves, married or not, and it would be a male of epic arsehole proportions who'd take advantage of a woman's fragile mental state to have sex, even if she's sending out all the appropriate signals.
Finally, props to the cinematographer, particularly the second unit. They did an excellent job of portraying the vast Australian landscapes, even if it did seem all over the place at times through the film.