Leave this land

Strangerland is sold as missing children drama. A freak sandstorm appears to sweep away a 15 year-old girl and her younger brother, leaving their parents mortified. At multiple points in this narrative, these kids barely matter.

Instead, the drama is all adult between a disassociated father Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) and a mother emotionally suffering due to their broken marriage, Catherine (Nicole Kidman). Strangerland appears to depict a scenario of loss. The arguments, the stress, the frustrations; each is evident. There are clues of an unspoken past. Their promiscuous daughter forced a move to this isolated Australian desert town, more of a remnant than functional or economically stable paradise. Secrets travel quickly here.

Strangerland stuffs itself with a parade of emotional bait. None of it takes.

What’s learned is that Matthew and Catherine are insufferable. Their denial is irritating. Their inaction is baffling. Their understanding of their own situation? Completely oblivious. Strangerland stuffs itself with a parade of emotional bait. None of it takes. Catherine’s total mental breakdown is a plea for physical contact, to feel. Through her forced encounters, she comes to blame herself for her daughter’s lewdness. She questions her own parenting ability. There are reasons why and they are hardly sympathetic.

Strangerland insinuates layers. It fails to dig through them. Kidman’s performance is all-in, spilling a story of failed affection and years of a disinterested marriage. Unfortunately, it’s vague. Strangerland concludes without answers. Final images are bleak, even unsettling. However these characters, as they’re developed, is not enough support. Strangerland merely feels cold and as disconnected from reality as its two main players.

Australia is gorgeous though. Strangerland has a wealth of panning images over deserts to display. Even the town with a handful of small shops – most which appear to have been abandoned in the ’60s – is a well laid, desolate backdrop.

A police mystery seeps in. Hugo Weaving’s bearded detective brings Strangerland its senses. The investigation brings doubt in addition to the vagueness which permeates much of the script. If all of this begins to feel critically overlong, that may be Strangerland’s purpose, a trickle down effect of emotions meant to be shared with an audience. Days pass. All of the detective work does not bring the kids back home. That should be harrowing. Instead, it’s flaccid without any dramatic energy.

Performances are fine, Kidman especially as she loses any sense of self-worth in the wake of these events. Strangerland has the unusual ability to feel deceitful, as if the film is hiding critical information to better support images of grief and loss. Empathy is required for those functions. So is honesty. Neither of those are shared traits with Strangerland. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Movie]

Kidman in thought @ 6:13

While much of the outback is stunning on disc – detail into the horizon line is not uncommon – black crush is egregious everywhere else. Shadows swallow actors whole. Their hair merges with backgrounds and if wearing dark clothes, they may as well not be wearing anything at all. There’s no fine detail to be found because there’s no detail. The black levels took it all.

Under daylight conditions, Strangerland is capable, however few those scenes may be. Sunlight aggressively filters in through windows. Placement of contrast is careful and will result in high frequency information. Close-ups are resolved and resolution feels full. Digital work introduces no problems such as noise.

Shot with a visible anamorphic squeeze, Strangerland soaks itself in warmth. Oranges are heavy. Any other hue feels out of place. A touch of banding during a sandstorm is not unexpected, one of the few faults which can be placed on the disc itself. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

Strangerland extensively uses the width of the stereos for its action. Knocks on doors, voices, and ambient activity are spread wide into the fronts. Dialog stretches away from the center too.

An obvious highlight is a well mixed sandstorm, capturing the rush of wind and plentiful sand passing by. When things quiet down, so does the mix. Insect calls nicely fill space while the score will catch the low-end. A moment with Kidman in her car has kids on a skate ramp traveling between the stereos, but the effect falls entirely into the center when the camera gives Kidman a close-up. It’s a distracting loss of directionality. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

An eight minute featurette on the cast and five minute featurette on the story are both bland bonuses. They’re the only bonuses too. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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