For certain filmmakers, a disastrous folly is something they have to get out of their system; for others, it’s closer to something they have to pass — like a gallstone or stomach gas. Terry Gilliam’s dour, absurdist, gruesomely awful Tideland is of the latter, excretory variety. In the comparatively coherent opening scenes (everything’s relative), Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), a little girl who likes to play with scrappy disembodied doll heads, watches as her mother (Jennifer Tilly), a Nancy Spungen wannabe, expires with a croak from a methadone injection. The girl then goes off with her rock & roll junkie father (Jeff Bridges), whom she helps to shoot heroin, and a few minutes later he’s dead as well, a corpse propped in a chair, with its purplish tongue sticking out.
Tideland might have taken its cue from that corpse: The movie dies early on, but it keeps hanging around, looking a little more rotten with each new scene. Orphaned, and stranded in a house that sits with arty isolation in a wheat field, Jeliza- Rose puts on lipstick, nattering to herself like a baby Blanche DuBois, and she makes ”friends” with the inhabitants, notably a cowering dimwit yokel (Brendan Fletcher) who has a brain-surgery scar laced onto his skull. There’s another corpse, a rabbit hole with zero wonder, and — why not? — a flirtation with pedophilia. But trying to decipher the ”signs” of Tideland will get you nowhere. The only way to make sense of the film is to read it as a splatter painting of disgust…at a movie industry that Gilliam feels shut out by, and at the audience that he has apparently decided to punish as well.