Film review: The Daughter

With his hauntingly beautiful interpretation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, director Simon Stone serves up an emotionally powerful visual treat.

Mar 17, 2016, updated Mar 17, 2016

Sweeping vistas, shifting tonal palettes and stunning performances from a stellar cast: this is Australian cinema at its moody, atmospheric best.

Like the 1980s film adaptation The Wild Duck, Stone’s feature debut opens with a duck being shot. There, however, the comparison ends. The Daughter is a much braver re-telling which rockets the 19th-century Norwegian classic into 21st-century Australia, complete with beery bromance and awkward teenage sex.

Christian Neilson (Paul Schneider) arrives home in Australia after a 16-year stint in the US. His father (Geoffrey Rush) is about to marry housekeeper Anna (Anna Torv) and has asked Christian to be best man.

Christian has alcohol issues and blames his father for his mother’s suicide, so it’s no surprise when arguments ensue. He ends up spending most of the wedding weekend hanging out with old childhood mate, Oliver Finch (Ewen Leslie).

Oliver now lives in a charmingly dilapidated cabin in the woods with adoring wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto), teenage daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) and his father (Sam Neill), who runs a small animal sanctuary at the back of the house. Envious of Oliver’s seemingly idyllic lifestyle and besieged by problems in his own marriage, Christian turns to drink – with disastrous results. Old wounds are re-opened, secrets are exposed and harmonious family life spirals into chaos.

There’s something of a Ray Lawrence aesthetic at play here (Stone was one of the supporting cast in that director’s highly acclaimed drama Jindabyne). The Daughter lacks Jindabyne’s subtle profundity, but the quiet intensity and emotion-driven pacing hark back to Lawrence’s masterpiece.

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What it lacks in subtlety, The Daughter makes up for in its engagement with modern cinematic technique. With the help of cinematographer Andrew Commis, Stone layers image after breathtaking image on top of the atmospheric soundtrack.

There’s some exceptional camera work (the duck in the cage at the beginning and the police-car’s flashing lights at the end are just two of many examples), and the varied tonal palette adds further atmospheric depth. The film moves seamlessly between the rich reds and greens of the Neilson house, the softer browns and yellows of the Finch home, and the more ethereal blues and greys of the external shots.

Towards the end of the movie, the script veers towards the melodramatic as it squeezes itself into the mould of the original play, but it’s carried forward by remarkable performances from Leslie and Young, in particular.

Heavy on dialogue and emotional drama, this is not for lovers of the action thriller, but The Daughter is a must-see for those who like to wallow in visual gorgeousness and some all-round damn fine acting.

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