Terry Gilliam summed up his latest film 'Tideland', based on the novel by Mitch Cullin, as 'Alice in Wonderland' meets 'Psycho'. A sinister and surreal fairytale, 'Tideland' is far less visually extravagant than Gilliam's earlier work ('Brazil', 'The Fisher King', 'Fear and Loathing', etc.), but all the more disturbing as a study of twisted childhood innocence.
Ten-year old Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) grows up with both her parents heroine addicts, preparing shots for her dad (Jeff Bridges) and enduring the whims of her psychotic mom. When soon after each other both die of overdoses, the girl is left to her own devices in a remote house on the prairie.
Taking refuge in a dark make-believe world, she talks with her collection of decapitated Barbie doll heads and explores the dilapitated house while the corpse of her father rots in the living room. She develops an ambiguous relationship with Dickens, a mentally retarded young man living in the only other house nearby, while his witch sister Dell applies her taxidermist skills to preserve dad.
If this sounds disturbing, 'Tideland' indeed makes for uncomfortable watching. Though it wears a little thin on plot and has no clear 'moral', it is still haunting as a psychological nightmare. Jeliza-Rose's role, as one review noted, has more in common with Catherine Deneuve in 'Repulsion' than with Alice. A clue to understanding the film might be that its theme of innocent escapism transcends Jeliza-Rose's age to any 'coping by dreaming' in a world of cruelty and madness.
Compare Andrew Wyeth's painting 'Christina's World', an inspiration for the film's look, which suggests a tense, frustrated mixture of yearning and isolation.