The Daughter 2015
Directed by Simon Stone
Starring Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Odessa Young, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto
Christian (Paul Schneider) arrives home after a long absence for his father Henry’s (Geoffrey Rush) wedding. Theirs is a difficult relationship, but he’s made to feel more at home by bumping into his one-time best friend, Oliver (Ewen Leslie). It’s not long before Christian’s personal problems start to surface and he delivers a hammer blow to both families that has repercussions for everybody.
After directing a segment in last year’s Australian portmanteau The Turning, Simon Stone has graduated to his first full length feature with The Daughter. Yet he appears to be playing it safe by taking the inspiration for the script, which he also wrote, from Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, a play that he’s already directed on the stage.
He’s updated it for the 21st century and also re-located it to Australia, but not the customary sun-drenched beaches. The landscape is all vast pine forests, lakes, brooding low clouds and even rain. The sun hardly gets a look-in and the Scandi-style setting gives the whole proceedings a sense of foreboding.
The sense of predictability is even stronger, and it starts with the opening scene. Henry shoots a duck but can’t bear to kill it so Oliver’s aging dad, Walter (Sam Neill), takes it back to his menagerie with the aim of bringing it back to health. But, as the duck lies injured on the ground, you’re immediately wondering who is going to be its human equivalent. It doesn’t take long for the penny to drop, although finding out why takes longer. It’s always obvious where the story is headed.
And the shadow of Ibsen hangs heavily over the production. While the film is reasonably faithful to the original, it still falls into the trap of feeling stage bound, even though some scenes have been expanded to take place in the school, the supermarket and even outdoors. But the domestic interiors do have the necessary whiff of claustrophobia, especially inside Henry’s gloomy home which, ironically, is a vast mansion.
The two families, even though they would never admit it, are at war yet have been connected for generations. Oliver loses his job at Henry’s timber plant when it has to close, Walter carried the can for Henry over some financial shenanigans and served time for it, Oliver’s wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto) was Henry’s housekeeper before her marriage, Christian and Oliver were close friends …… and so it goes on. There seems to be an invisible and unbreakable thread between them. Again, you can see where it’s all going.
Frustratingly, other potentially interesting themes are woefully under-developed. Walter, for instance, is showing early signs of dementia: he has to be reminded who Christian is and, once he realises, always says the same thing to him. But that’s as far as it goes. Apart from those moments, he’s on the ball and plays a crucial role in the climax. So why bother in the first place? The recession has hit Australia and the closure of Henry’s lumber mill is just one in a series of collapses that has clobbered the town. Most of the shops are boarded up, people are moving away to find work and it has the look of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. Again, that’s about as deep as it goes: even though Oliver is looking for another job, his family doesn’t appear to be struggling, nor does Henry, even though his business has gone under.
The Daughter is a slow-burn, sometimes too slow, and packed with emotion and undercurrents. Yet it’s seriously heavy handed and predictable, making it difficult to engage fully with the characters. So much of the acting goes to waste and just manages to stay the right side of being soapy. Although you may just detect some lather along the way.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★