By Joe McGovern
July 10, 2015 at 04:18 PM EDT
Ross McDonnell



The title evokes Robert A. Heinlein’s moody sci-fi novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, and portends at least a wisp of sensual mystery. But that promise blows away quickly in this dusty, stuffy Australian drama by first-time director Kim Farrant, who echoes the Outback-set aura of some of her country’s best films—Picnic at Hanging RockWalkabout, and A Cry in the Dark, to name three—without enough of the genre upending or narrative risk to make it stand out. Nicole Kidman, who’s only spoken in her native accent onscreen a handful of times since her film debut 32 years ago in the Aussie twofer of Bush Christmas and BMX Bandits, plays Catherine, a mother to two teenagers in an Aussie desert town. She is overly concerned with their wellbeing, which erupts emotionally when both the boy (Nicholas Hamilton) and girl (Maddison Brown) go missing one day. Their disappearances dredge up anguish related to Catherine’s repressed husband (Joseph Fiennes), as well as the town sheriff (Hugo Weaving). Kidman’s best performances have often been as grieving moms (Dead CalmThe OthersRabbit Hole) and here she provides the flaccid movie’s sole flash of daring and unpredictability. But before long, even her gritty acting fails to register amid the script’s melodrama and tepid plot turns. On a visual scale, Strangerland naturally takes advantage of the landscape’s unforgivably harsh light, and its quality kicks up a notch with an arrestingly shot sandstorm that happens around the movie’s halfway mark. It’s not a great sign, however, when the blinding dust gust is a full oasis-distance from a far more enthralling one in theaters right now. C


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