"Many of you are not going to like this film. Many of you, luckily, are going to love it. And then there are many of you who aren't going to know what to think when the film finishes, but, hopefully, you'll be thinking". That's what director/co-writer Terry Gilliam proclaims in his intro to this quirky, dark, messed-up drama Tideland, and frankly he couldn't be more accurate in describing the mixed emotions when watching this very odd film.
Based on the novel by Mitch Cullin, Tideland centres on young Jeliza-Rose who, after her washed-out mother chokes to death, is taken to a remote rundown farmhouse by her heroin-addicted father. The film delves into the complex fantasy world Jeliza-Rose has concocted in her head in order to cope and deal with the tragedies that happen in her life, especially when her father dies from an accidental overdose and she spends the whole of the movie acting as though nothing bad has happened to him while his corpse is rotting away.
Lord knows if both Gilliam and co-writer Tony Grisoni were on an acid trip when they made this bizarre movie, but it is one of the most surreal, insane, tonally-challenging movies there's ever been. It's an unpredictable watch, flip-flopping between the lightness of Jeliza-Rose's innocence and charm as she's having her own fantastical adventures with her disembodied doll heads and the dark and horrific reality that is happening around her. Tideland blurs the line between whimsical and grotesque, yet there is something about the way children keep themselves sane through the most extreme of circumstances. Whether it's through playtime and imagination or projecting your fears onto made-up characters, the film does offer a fascinating portrait of how a child's mind works, and credit does go to Gilliam for never losing sight of that.
At the centre of it all is Jodelle Ferland, who simply gives an outstanding performance as the adorably innocent Jeliza-Rose. Her maturity is highly commendable and impressive considering some of the horrific antics that are happening around her. Hell, she even prepares heroin for her father in some scenes! If anyone's curious to see more of Ferland's impeccable acting abilities, check her out in the short-lived, under-appreciated sci-fi series Dark Matter and you won't be disappointed.
The nightmarish mood and atmosphere, coupled with Jeff and Mychael Danna's score, completes this originally unique journey, although it's a journey that not everyone will appreciate. The reaction to this film has proved to be divisive even to this day, with some going as far as to actively dislike it, and honestly it isn't hard to see why considering how dark, twisted and strange it is. It has some pretty uncomfortable sexual content, with the very young Jeliza-Rose flirting with a 20 year old mentally-impaired man with a dark background, and there are some grotesque scenes of taxidermy included as well.
Despite how disturbing and messed-up it can be, as well as the hard fact that it is still a very divisive film that will still alienate and anger a lot of viewers, there is something highly admirable about Tideland and the story behind its production. Apparently, Gilliam made the film while he was on a six-month break from the post-production process on The Brothers Grimm, which was a highly-flawed film that looked as though it had the guts ripped out of it by overbearing studio interference. Filming on that particular movie took ages longer than it was supposed to, and there were endless rows between Gilliam and studio-mogul/infamous sex fiend Harvey Weinstein about the end product, so during that nightmarish production period he set out to make Tideland, pouring into it all of the dark, weird and subversive magic that he is famous for.
This goes to show that even the most divisive of movies can come from a place of true passion, even the ones that are hard to digest and remain outside of certain judgements to this day. Kudos definitely goes to Terry Gilliam for trying to get this made in the first place, considering the circumstances that led him there. It is true that Gilliam makes his movies through fire and brimstone just by examining his extraordinary filmography, and there is no denying that Tideland is a film that was borne out of that. It is highly likely that this still won't be to everyone's tastes, but nonetheless this remains a peculiarity that should be examined should you dare to choose so. Just don't go into it expecting a perfect movie.
TIDELAND / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: TERRY GILLIAM / SCREENPLAY: TONY GRISONI, TERRY GILLIAM / STARRING: JODELLE FERLAND, BRENDAN FLETCHER, JANET MCTEER, JENNIFER TILLY, JEFF BRIDGES / CERT: 15 / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 13TH