Movie Review: Tideland (2005)

tideland

The upcoming Terry Gilliam blogathon inspired me to revisit his oft-overlooked dark fable Tideland. Based on the book by Mitch Cullin, the film is shown through the eyes of young Jeliza Rose (Jodelle Ferland), who is left alone in an abandoned and isolated Texas farmhouse after her addict parents (Jennifer Tilly and Jeff Bridges) overdose in quick succession. Left with only dirty barbie doll heads for company and antique peanut butter for sustenance, Jeliza Rose sets out exploring the fields surrounding the house, inventing her own complex fantasies to sustain herself. She eventually runs into her strange neighbors- Dell (Janet McTeer), a harsh taxidermist who lost an eye to a bee sting, and Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), her developmentally disabled brother who becomes Jeliza Rose’s new playmate.

The first time I saw this film, it was on my ridiculously tiny, square dorm-room tv, and even then the splendor of its visuals was not lost on me. It is all just so fucking beautiful. Every shot is meticulously planned, from the sepia-tinged rural vistas to the close-up views of the cluttered, dilapidated farmhouse. There is sparse and well-placed use of CG to heighten Jeliza Rose’s fantasy world. Even though the dialogue is a bit scattered and the plot is fairly simple, Tideland injects itself into your subconscious with its dire atmosphere, dark humor, and moral ambiguity. There is a pervasive sense of unease spread thickly over the entire proceedings, giving it the feel of a slow-burn horror movie, though nothing typically “scary” really happens. I can’t even tell you why, but something about this movie terrifies me.

It goes without saying that Jeff Bridges and a nigh-unrecognizable Jennifer Tilly put in excellent, albeit short, performances. Janet McTeer is wonderfully intense and otherworldly as the half-crazed Dell, rockin’ a head-to-toe black get-up like no other. But this movie is wholly and completely Jodelle Ferland’s. She’s amazing- adorable, independent, weird, imaginative, sympathetic, and believable. Jeliza Rose’s fracturing psyche is explored through her doll head friends, with Ferland putting on a range of voices to conduct fake conversations with them all. It’s creepy, sad, and funny all at once.

A lot of people don’t like Tideland. In many ways it is a disturbing, off-putting film, and I’m sure it alienates many of its viewers. Personally I can’t help but always be drawn in by Gilliam’s visual mastery and imagination. His palpable childlike wonder gives this dark tale a strange innocence, while the considerable strengths of its cast lend it a horrific believability.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Shit I feel like I had a good suggestion as I was watching but then, as usual, didn’t write it down. I will instead offer the first thing that comes to mind, which is of course, Return to Oz.

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