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cast: Jodelle Ferland, Jennifer Tilly, Jeff Bridges, Brendan Fletcher, and Janet McTeer

director: Terry Gilliam

118 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Unique, stunningly shot and with an astonishing lead performance from Jodelle Ferland, Tideland is one of the most technically stunning, audaciously directed movies in years. It is also almost impossible to like.

When Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland)'s mother dies of an overdose, her father Noah (Jeff Bridges), fearing that he'll be accused of murder, takes his daughter back to his mother's old farmhouse. Not long after arriving there, Noah also overdoses and dies. However, because Jeliza-Rose is used to her father being unconscious for long periods of time, she just assumes he's asleep. Accompanied only by the severed heads of her dolls and the squirrels in the roof, Jeliza-Rose amuses herself until she meets the neighbours. Dell (Janet McTeer) is a woman blinded in one eye by a bee sting whilst Dickens (Brendan Fletcher) is a partially lobotomised sociopath who once tried to derail a train by driving a school bus into it. Together, the three form an uneasy friendship, which soon takes in everything from Noah's corpse to Dell's inability to let things die, and Dickens' obsession with the 'monster sharks' of trains that bully their way across the countryside.

Ferland is astounding; there really is no other word for her performance. With an intelligence and authority far beyond her years she's in almost every shot in the film and draws the viewer completely into Jeliza-Rose's world. The first time we meet her, she's sitting in an overturned school bus talking to fireflies, so wrapped up in her own world that we can't help but be carried along with her. When a train, mere feet away, shatters her world with noise, she shrieks with as much delight as terror and that combination of total joy and total fear is perfectly communicated to the viewer. Ferland is completely open, completely honest and utterly self-effacing, embracing Jeliza-Rose in a way that she only hinted at with her similar role in Silent Hill. She's the heart and soul of the film, and deserves far more recognition than she got for this performance.

Of the adult cast, McTeer is the real standout. Covered in black protective clothing and striding across the prairie like some neo-gothic grim reaper she's a formidable physical presence and one that is balanced with a secret which is both tragic and utterly horrific. Of the rest, Fletcher is given the toughest role as Dickens and does what he can with it. However, his endless nervous tics, speech impediment and fractured psyche constantly move the character to the absolute edge of caricature. By the time Dickens and Jeliza-Rose kiss for the first time, the character and film have tipped over from caricature into something that becomes progressively harder to watch. Critics who've defended the movie have said that the romance subplot is simply part of how Jeliza-Rose sees the world and there's certainly a case for that. However, by the time the climax, which sees Dickens face the Monster Shark for the last time, arrives the film has punched through southern gothic into something profoundly disturbing and at times, deeply unpleasant.

After the disappointing Brothers Grimm, Tideland is definitely a return to form for Gilliam. However, it's a return to the worst excesses of that form, wilfully grotesque and deeply unsettling. In the end, Tideland is an easy movie to admire, and a very difficult one to like.

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