It is a new Australian drama set in a small logging town and it tells the story of a man's homecoming, where he returns to a community full of secrets and scandal, most of which revolve around his family. It is a sticky web of deceit that threatens to ruin not only the lives of those at the centre, but also those surrounding it.
It's a film full of excellent performances and there cannot be any criticism levied at the impressive cast. Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill and Miranda Otto all give sincere turns, while Ewan Leslie and Odessa Young deliver two hair-raising powerhouse performances that stand amongst the best of the year. THE DAUGHTER is without question a performance-driven film and the pool of talent demands attention.
What troubles me about it is unidentifiable, although there is a frustrating sense of self-importance about it. I have struggled to write this review for so long because I didn't want to levy criticism unjustly, and yet time is ticking and the conclusion I have come to is that it simply rubbed me the wrong way. Obviously being vague is unfair to the filmmakers and so I would encourage you to see it. After all Australian cinema needs our support, right?
And that's partly where my reproval lies. We are constantly told that Australian cinema is in trouble. That we, the audience, are to blame for the lack of diversity and quality. And yet our industry is so inwardly focused that so many Australian films are made for the in-crowd while the average movie goer remains ostracised. THE DAUGHTER falls under that “artsy-fartsy” banner, where industry people will congratulate each other and herald it as a triumph, while the typical movie goer is more likely to piss it off as “wanky”.
If it weren't for the accomplished performances and impressive production design the film would be little more than an artistic episode of [insert title of any day time soap opera]. The plot is contrived and the revelations are obvious. Without directly dropping any spoilers I will say that more consideration and creativity could have been given to the film's title. And don't get me started on the editing.... oh boy. Almost every scene concludes with the next scene's dialogue overlapping, like an unwanted narration upon every beat. Perhaps they were attempting to establish a fluency, but all that's achieved is maximum annoyance.
There is a lot of technical merit to the film. It's cinematography and colour designs are stunning, and the mountainous forestry landscapes are remarkable... but with that in mind I should note that the 2014 film FELL already covered this aesthetic so brilliantly, leaving THE DAUGHTER as something familiar and repetitive. And when you consider Australian drama such as BEAUTIFUL KATE, JINDABYNE, OYSTER FARMER and the countless other art films, it's clear to see where our industry's true struggle lies. Do we have an identity crisis? Why is the funding being poured into these low-earners when the stats show that the audience wants stronger genre-based entertainment?
Thank God for MAD MAX and ODDBALL. These are the type of Australian films that we'll be recalling in years to come. THE DAUGHTER is more likely to end up collecting dust at the local public library.