The Daughter (2015)

The Daughter image

Untangling the narrative thicket of The Daughter is not easy and the plotline is slow to unfold. It helps to take a step back and look at the story as a metaphorical collision between a single ray of truth and the lie that connects two families. It is only at this thematic level that we can understand why Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 play The Wild Duck keeps reappearing on stage and screen. The Daughter is the latest re-imagining, with new characters and a modernised story that retains the glasshouse fragility of lives built upon secrets. It is timeless precisely because secrets are a part of life, yet some are so destructive that a few words can be a missile that shatters everything.

A gunshot is fired at the start and end of the film, and in between is a high-tension wire that is slowly pulled tighter and tighter until it snaps. When a timber mill closes in an unnamed Australian town disgruntled workers are laid off while the aloof and wealthy owner Henry plans to marry his much younger former housekeeper. His estranged son Oliver returns for the wedding looking for someone to blame for his mother’s suicide. When he learns about his father’s previous infidelity, he becomes emotionally volatile especially as it involves his best friend’s wife. Oliver exposes the affair which triggers a chain of events that nobody can control. Like in so many love stories told over centuries, a romantic indiscretion dredged up from the past becomes a devasting force of nature.

Although melodramatic and claustrophobic as family relationships can be, the story gathers pace in the second half, carried forward by outstanding acting from a stellar cast. It is beautifully photographed in gothic style with haunting atmospherics amidst iconic landscapes reminiscent of The Piano (1993). Several overlapping scenes and restless camera viewpoints evoke the vulnerability of relationships teetering on lies. Often we are not sure who is the protagonist of the story as events unfold from various viewpoints but it is the daughter Hedvig who emerges as the innocent heroine tragically burdened by the sins of family. As she did in Looking for Grace (2015), Odessa Young plays the rebellious daughter and again her star shines brightly all over this film. Tense, challenging, and wonderfully crafted, this complex film mixes a psychological thriller with tragedy and its ending will leave you stunned.

3 half stars

Director: Simon Stone

Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Anna Torv, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto, Paul Schneider, Odessa Young