Tideland

Movies
BAD, BAD LANDS Ferland wanders the wicked plains.
BAD, BAD LANDS Ferland wanders the wicked plains.

Time Out says

Merging far-out fantasias with nightmarish realities is what Terry Gilliam does best (see Brazil), which should have made Mitch Cullin’s novel a good fit. The story, a textbook example of you-thought-your-childhood-was-crappy? fiction, follows preadolescent Jeliza-Rose (Ferland) as she goes from junkie daddy’s little enabler to an orphan left alone in a ramshackle rural house. The girl’s only friends are a talking squirrel, a trio of disembodied dolls’ heads, the local insane spinster (McTeer) and a mental case; mummified corpses, secret rooms and perverse notions of barely legal sexuality all come into play. It’s the sort of bizarro-world scenario that screams out for Gilliam’s overactive imagination.

Yet the chance to traipse around in Faulkneresque territory hasn’t brought out the best in the filmmaker; his visual audacity and bric-a-brac set design transform gothic elements into an exaggerated Southern grotesque, and the explicit literary allusions to Dickens and Alice in Wonderland don’t make up for a stunning lack of depth. Several isolated sequences, such as an underwater dreamscape and an apocalyptic train wreck, make for impressive set pieces, but in terms of storytelling, Tideland is stillborn. Gilliam has proved he can do cartoonish caricatures before; when it comes to providing either a connection to his characters or catharsis, he’s just as lost as his heroine. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.)—David Fear

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