“Tideland” (2005): A Fable for Your Inner Child (Review)

From what we have been told by the media and by most of society at large is that children are victims, who must be kept safe at all times. We should never let them venture out and explore because there may be some dangerous person out there, ready to lash out and hurt them . It’s also important for us to instill fear of people who are different into their heads. So that they know how to avoid them rather then try to understand them. Our main character Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) has none of these characteristics because she was never taught these things. She has this type of innocence that is rarely seen by children of her age, and we should fear for her. Because she does get into situations that as an adult, we get scared for her. Yet Jeliza-Rose has such a great and wonderful imagination, that she is able to survive such horrible ordeals.

When watching this movie it is important to look at it from a child’s perspective. The stuff I will be describing about the plot may sound disturbing. But that’s mainly from the adult center who knows about these kinds of dangers. A child’s mind would not have these types of fears and it’s this kind of message that makes Tideland a wonderful and imaginative fairy tale along the same lines as Alice in Wonderland and Pan’s Labyrinth.

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Our movie opens with Jeliza-Rose living with her two heroin addicted parents (Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly). Most of her days are spent cooking and preparing shots which I know will bother many of you, but when you see it from her perspective. She just thinks she’s preparing medicine for them. She doesn’t know any of the dangers these drugs have, and if you think about it, it’s not really that much different then someone who gets a beer for their dad. Her parents are never abusive, although it’s clear she gets along better with her dad then with her mom. After the mother overdoses and dies, Jeliza-Rose moves out into the country in a big abandon house with her dad. On their first night she cooks up a shot to give him another vacation. Only thing is that on this trip, he never comes back. Without any way to contact anyone. Our young heroine uses her imagination to help make her new world appear a little brighter.

This may sound like a very bleak movie, and already I can feel some of you squirming while reading this; a young girl all alone in a big house with the corpse of her dead dad hanging around. Yet, I promise you, it’s not as dark as it would be, because it’s done from a very optimistic perspective. Later on Jeliza-Rose meets up with a mysterious woman named Dell (Janet McTeer) and a mentally handicapped boy named Dickens (Brendan Fletcher). In most other movies these two would be seen as the monsters, and in some instances they can be slightly scary. But maybe that’s my own adult mind clouding the fact that these two are the only friends this girl has right now. Even though Dickens is technically an adult around the age of 25, his mind is that of a child. Since Jeliza-Rose has no judgment about mental disorders, I’m sure she just sees him as someone she can get to play with. You may think that the story ends with her being with this new family, but it doesn’t. Somewhere reality has to step in and how it ends is something quite beautiful and also slightly disturbing but I’m not going to give it away.

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Throughout Terry Gilliam’s career I have always been impressed with how well the visuals appear on screen and with this it’s no different. There is a great sequence where the house goes underwater and it was all done with no CGI. Another very cool moment is where one of the doll heads turns into a sightly real one. Cinematographer Nicola Pecorlini makes the plain and somewhat drab landscapes look very beautiful. She does a good job in making us see things from a child’s perspective. The score by Mychal and Jeff Danna is also wonderful as it matches the whimsical and hopeful thoughts of our main character.

The cast in this movie is really good. Jeff Bridges plays a character who by all means should be a very despicable person, but he does have enough heart and is shown to really care for his daughter, despite his drug use. In the roll of Dell, Janet McTeer plays our Wicked Witch role, but instead of just leaving her as the main baddie, the movie gives her the chance to explain who she is. Brendan Fletcher in the roll of Dickens is also very good. He gives us a character who may look dangerous, but in fact is very sweet and innocent just like our Jeliza-Rose. Speaking of the little miss, Jodelle Ferland is downright amazing in this. I have only seen her in Silent Hill and Cabin in the Woods, but in those she was just bit parts and not the main focus. In Tideland the whole story is centered around her and she makes us fully understand and believe that what is going on is something magical, even though the adult mind wants to be scared for her. In one sequence her and Dickens kiss. Now you may be thinking that having a grown man kissing a nine year old girl is terms for pedophilia, but Dickens’ mental state is that of a child too. Him and Jeliza-Rose are both kids who are curious about it as all kids are. Plus it is her that does seduce him and it’s all done very innocently like.

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A lot of other critics have called this a horror movie, but I really don’t understand that. Yes it does have some scary elements but I wouldn’t say that it belongs in that genre. Would you say that Alice in Wonderland gets labeled as one because the red queen wants to chop people’s heads off? Probably not. I think the main thing that upsets a lot of people is how innocent Jeliza-Rose is, and that she may not be aware of the dangers she’s getting into. Yet, all throughout the movie, it made me feel like a kid discovering things for the first time no matter if they were slightly scary at first. You could say that she was in danger in becoming just like her parents, but she showed no interest in the drugs they were taking and after being in a house with her dead dad. I don’t think she will have any since. The only complaint I will give it is that it does run pretty long. After the characters of Dell and Dickens are established, the movie could have trimmed off a few moments here and there, as it clocks in around two hours. Yet, it never overstays it’s welcome. The movie is rated “R” for good reasons, but I would be curious if children around the age of 9 would have the same fears that many adults had watching it. Would they see it as something disturbing or would they see it as something slightly uplifting. Tideland is a remarkable achievement from director Terry Gilliam and I hope that the child inside every one of you gets a chance to see it.

The Good:  The beautiful imagery and the casting of Jodelle Ferland in the main role.
The Bad:  Runs a little bit too long
The Odd:  Those talking doll heads and the taxidermy scene.

Overall: 9.0/10

Written By The Vern

Yes Hello people. It is I The Vern. Lover of movies, women, and whiskey, but not in that particular order. Besides writing for this site. I help co host The As You Watch podcast and help contribute to the world of films wherever I can.


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  • Always thought this one was unjustly overlooked. Great review.

  • Brittani

    This movie was so. fucking. weird. I definitely wouldn’t call it bad, but it was strange. You know a movie is strange when the director has to explain his intentions of it before the film plays on the DVD. lol

  • Brittani says it best below. Tideland is weird, but it’s definitely still a solid flick. Brendan Fletcher deserves more attention. The dude can act. He even made Uwe Boll’s most tolerable flick, Rampage, somewhat decent.

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