In early February this year, Screen Australia announced that Noomi Rapace would star in Australian director Kim Farrant’s upcoming psychological thriller Angel of Mine. With a script by Oscar-nominated fellow Australian Luke Davies of Lion fame and based on Safy Nebbou’s 2008 French film The Mark of an Angel, the film is reimagined in the Australian city of Melbourne. In late March, Australian-born actor Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale) was added to the cast with the project beginning shooting in Melbourne this April. All signs are indicating that Farrant’s follow-up to her widely misunderstood but hugely impressive 2015 feature debut Strangerland starring Nicole Kidman promises to further reveal an until-now generally unrecognised Australian filmmaking talent.
Strangerland is set in a fictional Australian outback town, where the Parker family have moved after a scandal involving their teenage daughter, Lily (Madison Brown). The tension this has brought to the family is visible in the relationship between mum Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and dad Matthew (Joseph Fiennes), and both Lily herself and her younger brother Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) are as distant and isolated from their parents as much as the parents are from each other. The kids go missing one night, and with the help of local cop David (Hugo Weaving), the search for the missing children reveals as much about the Catherine and Matthew themselves as it does their lost kids.
Farrant earned her stripes in the trenches of television, but Strangerland is no TV movie: even its detractors (of which there were at the time of its release quite a few) have been forced to acknowledge how beautifully Strangerland looks. But at the heart of the film lies the extraordinary presence of Nicole Kidman, her first Australian indie feature since Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm in 1989. Strangerland offers further evidence that there exists a kind of ‘alternative’ Kidman canon that shuns the big-name films and instead her more curious and at times outright weird films like To Die For, The Others, Birth, Fur, and most recently, Yorgis Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
Strangerland sits comfortably in this rich, latter category of Kidman’s work. With a spectacular dust storm early in the film that acts as a portal into a haunted, haunting and often-surreal space where the bulk of the film’s hyperactive drama plays out, Farrant crafts what feels at times like a reverse Wizard of Oz. Strangerland of course has more obvious sources of inspiration closer to home, including the Australian (or Australian-made) movies Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971), Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) and Beautiful Kate (Rachel Ward, 2009). Unlike many Australian films, however, Farrant is brazen enough to wear her passion for and understanding of melodrama on her sleeve, but like the masters of that form – from Douglas Sirk to Rainer Werner Fassbinder – Farrant intuitively understands the darkness that lies within melodrama as a dramatic mode.
In Strangerland, Farrant and Kidman together are almost gleeful in their embrace its hysteria – while the latter has built an entire career out of knowing when to let go and knowing when to pull back, it is exciting to see Farrant now get to demonstrate her own skills further on the international stage with Angel of Mine.