A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: Simon Stone
Written By: Simon Stone
Produced By: Jan Chapman, Nicole O’Donohue
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto
Running Time: 97 Minutes
The element of mystery is one that many storytellers seek in their narrative as it’s a wonderfully gripping component that ideally leaves its major revelation in the dark until a powerful climax.
The trouble with a mystery however, is that the characters inhabiting the world in which it is set need to be fully explored and fleshed out in order to have an impact on an audience come the anticipated conclusion. Many fall flat in this regard, yet it’s delightfully refreshing to see an Australian debut filmmaker achieve exactly what is required in a solid and compelling mystery drama thriller, all the while demonstrating he has a firm understanding of the audience experience.
Simon Stone’s The Daughter, inspired by Henrick Ibsen’s 1884 play The Wild Duck, revolves around two tight-knit families that, in light of a visitor from an estranged visitor, are reconnected.
What The Daughter provides is a strong understanding of how reserved narrative unravelling in the place of Hollywood-style closure can profoundly benefit the experience overall both during and following the film itself.
A bold and enveloping effort from first time director Stone, his vision of the Ibsen piece focuses on a selection of varying characters, all of whom are related in one way or another and possess a facade of varying significance. It seems nearly everybody has something to hide.
Like any gripping thriller, nobody is quite as they seem upon introduction, and as the film unfolds and truths are revealed, the reactions, motives and overall progression of the narrative plays out both satisfactorily and unexpectedly; two imperative qualities for the genre.
With relatively subdued performances from the big names such as Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill and Miranda Otto, the story really belongs to the lesser known faces such as Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider and Odessa Young, all of whom are both perfectly cast and deliver excellently grounded, crushingly believable performances.
Stone understands his characters in great detail, and it shows. Juggling varying stories and allowing the audience to get to know them like he does, the first half of the film seems to have no solid direction. Alternating storylines that are seemingly unrelated, the story cleverly begins to draw each subplot closer together in a gradual, intertwining fashion. Once the storylines connect and begin to affect the others, a jumbled but coherent mess is formed, which for a story such as this, is the perfect outcome.
The use of metaphor is strong and potent within the film, drawing parallels between animals and humans, most specifically a certain character and a duck, which may or may not stem back to the original source material. The way the plot unfolds and proceeds to trickle down the family line is a clever and relatable way of telling the story of The Daughter. The past is unearthed, and one by one, these otherwise strong and respectable chess pieces of characters fall as their secrets of yesteryear are exposed in shocking and ramifying fashion.
The snowballing chain reaction approach within the narrative offers a lot of drama, tension and character engagement as one character’s shocking revelation affects their next of kin and so on and so forth.
Shot beautifully within the misty landscapes of rural New South Wales, The Daughter possesses an eery tone that acts as the undercurrent of the picture.
A popular trope within similar brooding Australian pictures, various slow and striking cutaway shots heighten the atmospheric qualities of the setting, that in turn represent the overall narrative thematically.
It’s a difficult formula to execute properly, particularly nowadays, however what Stone has managed to achieve is yet another brilliant example of what Australian cinema has to offer.
A thriller that surpasses most to come out of The U.S. as of late, The Daughter keeps it’s story close to home and allows brief insights into what lies beneath do the brunt of the work in keeping the audience’s focus, all before it’s explosive and emotionally heavy conclusion.
Simon Stone is not just a director to watch, but one to admire for courageously refusing to fall into the trap of feeling obliged to tick all the boxes, leave nothing unanswered and provide full closure in his story.
Where some viewers may be begging for fifteen minutes more, upon reflection, the choice to conclude where the picture does provides a far more realistic and memorably dour ending than any extra material could have.
The Daughter is one of the best Australian films to be released in years. The performances across the board are excellent and without fault, while the story itself is gripping from the first frame to the last. Bookended in an intelligent way, it’s clear that Stone knows what he is doing as both a director, a storyteller and an artist who is conscious of the audience’s experience of his work.
Like recent releases such as Animal Kingdom and The Babadook, Simon Stone’s gripping debut feature climbs up and places itself comfortably in the pantheon of modern Australian cinematic excellence and is undoubtedly up there with the best of 2016.