As it turns out, Australia terrifies me. For years, I attributed my slight gnawing dread of the continent to emotional remnants left from Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, for my money the creepiest movie ever made. But now Jindabyne has come skulking into American theaters. It crawled up my spine with eerie familiarity, tickling every last jangling nerve end on the way.
Jindabyne is based on the Raymond Carver short story "So Much Water So Close to Home." The Carver tale previously got the big-screen treatment in Robert Altman's ensemble story-overlapper Short Cuts. Jindabyne, which adapts the story for an Australian setting, proves it worthy of stand-alone exposure.
Set (and filmed) in and around the town of Jindabyne, the film focuses on Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), who goes on an angling expedition with three mates, and his wife Claire (Laura Linney), whose has daily-life struggles with her friends, her in-laws, her son, and her past.
What happens is not for me to tell, but the result tastes like a stew of Hanging Rock, In the Bedroom, A River Runs Through It, A Cry in the Dark, and The Silence of the Lambs.
Ray Lawrence, who made the fine 2001 thriller Lantana, directs. Pivotally, the screenplay decentralizes the point of view — away from Claire, as Carver has it — turning the tale omniscient. In his depiction of a land that seems to have eyes everywhere, Lawrence shifts the perspective further, to one of all of nature.
Perhaps it's just Down Under auteur madness that I'm responding to with fear. Lawrence and Weir both have created a land that is seemingly alive and perilously dangerous. Death has rarely seemed so at hand. Is the real Australia the same? I'll not be finding out. The silver screen's close enough for me, thanks.
Jindabyne opens Friday, August 3rd, at Ridgeway Four.