Review: Tideland (2005)

Tideland (2005)

Directed by: Terry Gilliam | 122 minutes | drama, fantasy | Actors: Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Janet McTeer, Brendan Fletcher, Jennifer Tilly, Aldon Adair, Wendy Anderson, Sally Crooks, Dylan Taylor, Kent Wolkowski

After the bitter flop of the terribly expensive ‘The Brothers Grimm’ (2005) it seemed as if Gilliam had lost his humor and creativity. With ‘Tideland’ he picks up again, the film is a return to the style of films such as ‘Twelve Monkeys’ (1995) and ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (1998). Gilliam doesn’t want to let go of the fairytale completely yet, but he distorts it and mixes it with drugs, paranoia and madness, as we are used to from him. What he hasn’t quite figured out yet is that his films don’t even need literal references to fairytale stories to become the most bleak fairytales.

In ‘Tideland’ – based on the story by Mitch Cullin – the main character is a young girl, Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland). Her expired mother (Jennifer Tilly) dies disfigured from an overdose, after which her – also drug addict – father (Jeff Bridges) takes her to her grandmother. However, that grandmother turns out to be long dead and her house in a serious state of disrepair. As the world around her grows increasingly hostile and desolate, Jeliza-Rose flees further and further into her fantasy world. Her parents needed drugs to ‘go on vacation’, Jeliza-Rose has enough of her fantasy. But in a bad world, her dream quickly turns into a bad trip. A nice idea, but one in which a child’s play (both ‘play’ in the sense of ‘acting’ and ‘playing’) plays a very important role. Jodelle Ferland plays well, but her childish games sometimes annoy her because it keeps her stuck in a hopeless situation, from which she should actively escape. The story therefore has no clear direction, it relies entirely on the bizarre situations and characters.

Terry Gilliam himself described the film as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ meets ‘Psycho’ and those two references are indeed abundantly present. The film opens with a girl’s voice (that of Jeliza-Rose who reads from Alice in Wonderland and during the film she encounters a real rabbit hole in addition to bizarre characters and situations (just like Alice). ‘Psycho’ is represented through the stuffed animals and the remote location, but above all in characters of the maddened witch Dell (Janet McTeer) and her mentally handicapped brother Dickens (Brendan Fletcher).

With beautiful, often skewed images, sickening close-ups, crazy characters, terrible events and the putative gaze of a child and a mentally handicapped person, Gilliam creates a deep black fairy tale whose happy ending is doubtful. Unfortunately, the film circles around within one situation for too long, expecting the ‘journey’ to continue. This is partly due to those direct references to Alice in Wonderland, as Alice ended up in many different situations. It is unclear why a rabbit hole had to appear late in the film, as it does not fulfill a clear function. Despite the objections, it is already a big improvement from ‘The Brothers Grimm’ to ‘Tideland’: Gilliam is back! Good thing, too.

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