Tideland (2005) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Tideland (2005)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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Danny LIKEI turned to my roommate Sam barely halfway into Terry Gilliam's Tideland. "Sam," I said, "This movie is kind of fucked up."

He didn't take his eyes off the screen where a young girl was dreaming that her dolls were having a celebration within the embalmed corpse of her father.

"You're kidding," he said with a deadpan monotone.

Tideland is a strange movie, strange in ways I can hardly verbalize. It's a film of eerie beauty and carefully crafted to be shocking and revolting. On the DVD, there's an introduction by Gilliam who starts, "Many of you are not going to like this film" and implores the audience to look upon it with a child's point of view.

Well, yeah. The movie doesn't give you much of a choice otherwise. It's the story of young Jeliza Rose, who sees both of her parents die in short succession. Her mother goes out choking on one of the chocolates she refuses to share, her father from his heroin habit. He leaves her in a abandoned house in the middle of nowhere, fending for herself and only a few plastic doll heads for company.

Weird as this is, I still haven't introduced the neighbors. Dickens is a lobotomized epileptic who engages with Jeliza's fantasy world, and Dill is his domineering sister with a morbid fear of bees who believes in Jesus and the unerring power of embalming fluid.

And there's another character to the film, a fairly coy one: the camera. Throughout the movie, the camera is an inquisitive viewer to the surroundings, often staying at Jeliza's level. There are long slow takes, tilting to follow both the characters as they move to different planes and to express an unstated curiosity. The slow, sweeping movements are beautiful in how the recreate both wonder and aid the film's slightly off-center themes.

All of the camera tricks are fascinating since Gilliam has less special effects in this film than any of his others. Instead, he relies on composition, camera work, and perspective to create a highly subjective atmosphere of stark beauty and desperate madness. It's no coincidence that Jeliza Rose is reading Alice in Wonderland, because both that and Tideland share similar genres, that of being fucked up kids tale. This one has many of the same conventions, the spiderwebs, the dust, and that mildewy smell that infest the strange horrors of youth. It's a Roald Dahl book for adults blasted to the next level.

But maybe I'm dolling this film up a bit much. I say that this movie is ten kinds of fucked up with a gentle affection, but also as a warning.

The movie may look like a drama, but it's closest cinematic cousin would have to be the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. In fact, this could easily serve as a prequel, as we watch a young girl, already corrupted by her addict parents, continue with her imagination unbridled into a scary place rich with horrors that few of us have scant imagined. Once the dolls she consults start talking on their own, there's no going back.

However, Tideland lacks the visceral release of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, and offers no bloody catharsis for all of the madness on display until the literally explosive end of the movie-- which Jeliza Rose also believes to be the end of the world. It isn't, of course, but I wouldn't spoil that for her.

Tideland doesn't function on any level of reality I'm familiar with, but as a terrifying window into another. And while the film is far from perfect, the pitch black thrills make it more than worth the journey.

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Tideland (2005)

This film (IMDB) is currently available on DVD.

Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, and Jodelle Ferland

Posted by Danny

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