Nicolekidman

As Strangerland begins, Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) are trying to adjust to life in a podunk town deep in the Australian outback where they just moved to.  Their hot-to trot teenage daughter Lilly (Maddison Brown), and sulky preteen Tom (Nicholas Hamilton) have quickly fallen in with the town’s street toughs at the local skate park.

On the eve of a dust storm, the two kids disappear in the dead of night, and vanish without a trace. The next morning with the town eerily covered in dirt, Catherine and Matthew frantically start looking for their children after discovering them gone. When the local cop named David (Hugo Weaving) leads the search, and he immediately suspects there might be foul play surrounding the events.

There are plenty of red herrings to be found — primarily with the resident skateboarder desert punk (Sean Keenan), and an Aborigine young man named Burtie (Meyne Wyatt). Both men have had relations with Lilly. As the clock ticks, Catherine, who’s convinced they are left for dead in the desert, slowly starts to have an emotional breakdown.

Ambiguous storytelling can’t help but trip up the film, and at it’s hard to exactly get a grasp on what exactly it’s going for. The end result is an awkward mix of mystery, melodrama, and thriller. For what the story lacks the acting thankfully makes up for. Kidman, Fiennes, and Weaving hold the detached film together with great performances. Kidman has made a career of fearless roles, and does fine work here as a woman on the edge. In some scenes, she’s almost sleepwalking across the screen as Catherine descends into grief. Here’s an actress that can go from playing the icy villain of Paddington to this gritty Aussie housewife. It’s a reminder she’s one of that country’s biggest creative assets. It’s nice to see her get back to her native roots here. Weaving adds interesting layers to his performance, and is the most well rounded character in the film.

First-time filmmaker Kim Farrant sure knows how to shoot a film. Gorgeous photography of the desolate landscape fills the screen, but it would help more if she were to include a coherent story to surround it. Strangerland doesn’t really add up to anything that interesting, or engaging. Nor does it give any answers to its mystery.

*Available to rent on OnDemand through  Apple, and Amazon.