A story that could (possibly) have made a decent enough ep of say Water Rats is dragged out to feature length with some big name actors and nice shots of the desert. A family moves to a small town - two kids go missing but no one seems particularly worried. Okay that's unfair - mum does stress but dad seems more worried about the family's reputation, which doesn't make sense (I get maybe he thinks that the daughter has simply run off... but the young son?)
The townsfolk don't seem to worry either even though surely the disappearance of two kids would be news. Hugo Weaving is the detective on the case, and he doesn't seem to worried either. There's a remarkable lack of tension... not to mention absence of believable character development or narrative satisfaction (spoiler: we don't even find out what happened to the girl).
Would Nicole Kidman really forgive Joseph Fiennes for having kept quiet about seeing the kids leave for so long? Would Joe Fiennes never mention when he saw the kids leave? Would he really keep things secret? What happened to the subplot with the teacher played by Martin Dingle-Wall? What is the story of the relationship between the married couple? Is he a molesteror or did they just grow apart?
Okay, so I get that they didn't want to tie up everything in a neat bow and certainly films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and Walkabout didn't spell everything out. But they offered other compensations - shots of the landscape, evocative performances. Strangerland is mostly set indoors, in the country town - we hardly ever go out into the desert. The landscape which could have been another character like, say, Hanging Rock, isn't.
The filmmakers try to pump up the spookiness by throwing in some wind sounds and storms but it's not enough. This is a movie that reeks of film school: lots of scenes of people sitting around the breakfast table speaking flat naturalistic dialogue, endless shots of the horizon, self conscious reference to aboriginal people and culture, passive heroes, reference to a young teenage girl's sexual awakening.
I can imagine the screen studies assignment that would accompany this - lots of talk about landscape, and depiction of women in the country, and the place of women in Australian society.
Maybe this would have been creepier if set in 1962 or something. Or if the family had been aboriginal. Or if only the teenage daughter had gone missing not the kid as well. Or if Nicole Kidman had gone completely bonkers at the end instead of whimping out.
There is some good acting from Kidman, Meyne Wyatt and Hugo Weaving. Fiennes isn't much but it's a terrible role.