A resilliant, imaginative girl is being raised by dangerously drug addicted parents, in Terry Gilliam's nightmarish modern fairy tale Tideland (2005).
It's based on the novel by Mitch Cullin, itself called a cross-mating of Alice Through the Looking Glass with Psycho.
Jennifer Tilly as the mom is superbly ugly. Jeff Bridges is less ugly, but still horrible in the parent department. They've trained the child to cook up their heroin for them as matter of factly as she might make them breakfast.
Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) seems untouched by any of it, as she's a loving caring child, though there will be times during the story we may wonder what the distinction is between childhood imagination & outright madness.
When mom overdoses, dad abandons the corpse & takes his daugther on the bus to grandma's place.
Grandma has been dead for years, but the isolated homestead of What Rock is still there, dusty & broken down, surrounded by meadows of dried grass, having been filmed on the Saskatchewan pairie which is doubling for Texas.
Instead of compelte Barbie dolls she has doll heads to play with. She puts them on her figer tips & they become her weird puppety friends; she assigns each a personality & voice of its own. The blonde doll head is named Mystique, Jeliza-Rose's favorite.
Then dad overdoses in the rocking chair in grandma's crumbling house with only doll heads for company.
We begin for the first time to wonder if Jeliza-Rose is quite the perfectly surviving golden child unphased by the horrors around her. She might be innocently & subtly insane. She dresses up her dad's corpse in a wig & puts make-up & jewelry on him.
She encounters a paranoid old-acting woman (Janet McTeer) always in widow's garb, convinced all bees are out to get her, with blood in one eye where a bee once stung her. Jeliza-Rose befriends one-eyed Dell & an even stranger young man, Dickens (Brendan Fletcher).
She has a great outing in the fields with Dickens, who is manic & retarded & has a fort he calls his "submarine." He begins to enter into the world of Jeliza-Rose's fantasies, & she into his.
Dell eventually finds out Jeliza-Rose is living with a dead dad. Nutty Dell is a taxidermist, & possibly a necrophyle. But Jeliza-Rose is just so grateful Dell fixed dad up before he completely rotted away.
Dell & Dickens begin to help clean up & paint the house, turning it into a pleasant home. Rose learns Dickens was molested when very little, by Jeliza-Rose's late grandma. Yet he still misses her.
One day Mystique was accidently dropped down a rabbit hole (in one of several overt references to Alice).
This becomes more fuel for Jeliza-Rose's & Dickens' fertile & macabre imaginations. Then Dickens gets dynamite from the quarry which he intends to use to blow up a train, convinced he'll be killing a monster shark.
At first glance Tideland may seem a "restrained" film, where Terry Gilliam is concerned, considering the wild flights of fantasy in other of his films & the subtler intrusion of fantasy into Jeliza-Rose's world of magic-realism rather than outright supernatural fantasy. But really every frame is like a weird portrait, & the most realistic moments of the film have an aesthetic surreality & hideous beauty.
Tideland is one of the best horror films ever made, averse to all cliches of the genre, packed with disturbing reality, weird fantasy, unutterable madness depicted as a "good" thing, & always at center stage an innocent little girl -- so innocent it barely seems possible she's anything but sane.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl