Australia's filmmakers have exported their fair share of personality disintegration dramas, from "Wake in Fright" in 1971 through "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and last year's "The Babadook."
Now comes Kim Farrant's moody thriller, "Strangerland," about the unraveling of a married couple played by Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes after their teenage daughter and son disappear one night.
The Parkers had moved to a dusty, depressed Outback town none of them are happy about, and the script sets up plenty of domestic discontent: Lily (Maddison Brown) rebels through sexuality, Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) takes long midnight walks. Then the kids vanish, and secrecy and hysteria send Kidman's Catherine off the deep end.
Farrant enjoys working up a haunted vibe with sounds, music cues and visual desolation, but the story's shifting points of view — especially the dreary investigation conducted by Hugo Weaving's detective — routinely disrupt any sustained sense of dread. Then the nagging sense sets in that Farrant and screenwriters Fiona Seres and Michael Kinirons are after something arty with their story, and the movie can't ambiguously end fast enough.
Though Kidman is solid as a wife and mom tormented by her daughter's secret erotic life, "Strangerland" never successfully welds its central mystery with its psychosexual drapings, leaving neither especially interesting.
MPAA rating: R for language, sexuality, brief graphic nudity.
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles.