Jeliza-Rose (Ferland), daughter of drug addicts, lives in a world of her imagination. When her mother (Jennifer Tilly) dies, her father (Bridges) takes her to a derelict rural homestead, where he also overdoses, leaving Jeliza-Rose to get involved with a witchlike woman (McTeer) and her lobotomised brother (Fletcher).
Following the hideously compromised The Brothers Grimm, Terry Gilliam rushed into this from-the-heart adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s creepy novel. It’s a film with a unique feel, evoking Alice In Wonderland, To Kill A Mockingbird and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but despite a remarkable, star-making performance from 11 year-old Jodelle Ferland, it struggles to hold the attention.
While Ferland is a perfect innocent, nestling in her father’s embalmed arms and chatting with the severed dolls’ heads who are her closest friends, the grown-up actors get so far into their bizarre characters that they’re hard to endure. Jennifer Tilly is so excruciating in her brief performance that the film almost gets better when she’s dead, only for Janet McTeer and Brendan Fletcher to show up doing equally grating mad-person acts.
As has too often been the case, Gilliam works so hard on the wonderful details — see-sawing camerawork, dilapidated but magical art direction, flights of grimy fantasy — that the overall effect of the film goes badly wrong. The enormously talented Ferland, who went from this to Silent Hill, needs better advice, or else she’ll be doing giant snake films in Bulgaria before her bat-mitzvah.
The dismal subject matter is beautifully shot, but Tideland merrily dances on the line between the merely unpleasant and the completely unwatchable.