Screen Time: 100%
Age: 10 years old
Directed: Terry Gilliam
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
After her mother dies from a heroin overdose, Jeliza-Rose is taken from the big city to a rural farmhouse by her father. As she tries to settle into a new life in a house her father had purchased for his now-deceased mother, Jeliza-Rose's attempts to deal with what's happened result in increasingly odd behavior, as she begins to communicate mainly with her bodiless Barbie doll heads and Dell, a neighborhood woman who always wears a beekeeper's veil.
Movie ReviewsTerry Gilliam was once quoted as saying: "There's a side of me that always fell for manic things, frenzied, cartoony performances. I always liked sideshows, freakshows... Absolutely grotesque, awful, tasteless. I like things to be tasteless". For his latest film, the director has taken this belief to heart, with Tideland coming across like Alice in Junkieland or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from a child's point of view. Gilliam's films have often been grotesque or disturbing (Michael Palin's cheerful torturer in Brazil being a particular favourite of mine) but with Tideland he achieves a relentless atmosphere of perverse gallows humour that lasts the entire duration of the film.
There were members of the audience in the screening I went to who did laugh (I managed a smile from time to time) but I found myself watching the film with my hand (metaphorically) over my mouth for most of the running time and came out into the evening sunshine as disturbed as when I saw Requiem for a dream for the first time. This is not to say I didn't enjoy the film. Tideland is well written, extremely well acted and has some of the most stunning cinematography I've seen on screen for a long while. However any film that ends with an obscene act of terrorism (albeit required by the plot), has a ten year old force-feeding a dead man peanut butter crawling with ants and also has the same girl longing to french kiss a brain damged man twice her age can certainly be described as 'difficult' viewing.
It's often tempting to group together Gilliam's films when they share a common theme - Time Bandits / Brazil / ...Baron Munchausen make a convenient three ages of man trilogy for example - and as this film reunites Gilliam with the cinematographer (Nicola Pecorini) and adapter (Tony Grisoni) of Fear and loathing in Las Vegas it does feel like something of a companion piece, perhaps answering the question 'What would have happened if Raoul had stopped at that creepy house by the side of the road and taken one too many drugs?"
Following the overdose of her junkie mother, young Jeliza-Rose is taken to her grandmother's abandoned house in the middle of nowhere by her smack addicted father. While he (Jeff Bridges) goes on internal 'vacations', she explores the house and meets her neighbours - a funereal clad 'witch' called Dell who likes stuffing and preserving animals and her mentally disturbed brother Dickens... While Gilliam's trademark fantasy sequences were very welcome in Fear and loathing... to show the altered states of the lead characters, here they almost seem unnecessary as the little girl who's our tour guide on this bizarre trip, encounters enough outré characters and situations that they don't need augmenting by superimposition or CGI. I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a film that defies genre but the trappings of the Ed Gein story (filmed variously as Psycho, Deranged & Texas Chainsaw...) replete with the tanned, preserved bodies of family members occupying chairs at the dining table and beds upstairs mixed with the tropes of Alice in Wonderland (read aloud her by Jeliza-Rose) perhaps make this film more unsettling than it would be as a straight horror film rather than one overlapping with kids' fantasy movies.
This is firmly in the realm of 'American Gothic' horror as previously visited by the likes of Philip Ridley (in his under-rated The Reflecting Skin & The Passion of Darkly Noon) and Alfred Hitchcock (in Psycho). Although Gilliam is American by birth, I'd like to think that his long association with this country has given him a British perspective on Americana as, like Ridley and Hitchcock, he brings a (European) fairytale and absurdist view to the popular myth of inbred grave robbers in the wilds of North America. Like Ridley in The Reflecting Skin he casts a British character actress in the role of a witch rattling around an old house on the prairie (then Lindsay Duncan, now Janet McTeer) and has a ten year old innocent witness the unfolding mythology (then Jeremy Cooper, now Jodelle Ferland). Ferland is amazing as the lead and confidently carries a great many scenes entirely by herself, although early scenes in her grandmother's house where she's exploring like Alice, perhaps go on a bit too long. Elsewhere Gilliam gets his usual brilliant performances out of the rest of the cast as well, McTeer is great is the one-eyed taxidermist and Brendan Fletcher is to be commended for the intensity of his manic, frenzied, cartoony performance as the retarded boy - a role that will hopefully allow him to escape his career (so far) of straight to video horror films.
Perhaps the increasing (albeit infrequent for a Gilliam film) fantasy elements of the film are meant to show Ferland's character escaping into a fantasy world as her surroundings become more and more horrific, but these elements seem too arbitrary for that. There are moments where the augmenting of reality works really well - a bus passing under a bridge that is night on one side and day on the other - but considering the most expensive scene is one that depicts reality (the apocalyptic finale), perhaps Gilliam should have allowed the audience to find our own interpretation of Jeliza-Rose's experiences. However, this is a minor complaint and while I'd hesitate to recommend this film to anyone without a strong stomach or a certain amount of patience, this is a far more rewarding experience than the workmanlike Brothers Grimm and one that will stay with you long after the end of your trip to Tideland.