Editor’s Note: The Daughter opens in limited theatrical release today, January 27, 2017.
It’s been the better part of two decades since Christian (Paul Schneider) has returned to his Australian home, having left for America years ago after his mother died. His reluctant return comes as his wealthy father Henry (Geoffrey Rush) is about to remarry to a woman younger than his disaffected son, and it’s no shock to anyone, except maybe Henry, that Christian would rather spend time with his old school pal Oliver (Ewen Leslie). Oliver has a good life with loving wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and their teen daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young), but he’s just lost his job thanks to Henry’s lumber mill closing down for good, leaving no employment options in their tiny, decaying town; it doesn’t help that Oliver’s aging father Walter (Sam Neill), who lives with the family, is in the early stages of dementia.
It’s a tremendous performance from Paul Schneider, who puts a new spin on the old trope of the wounded-man-turned-psychopath, and without resorting to Jekyll-and-Hyde cliché.
Writer-director Simon Stone’s The Daughter, an adaptation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, debuted as a stage play before being turned into a film, and its staginess is occasionally apparent in static scenes and an overreliance on gorgeous interiors and exteriors to do some emotional weightlifting. It’s all beautifully photographed by Andrew Commis, and even when the visuals turn a touch cliché or overwrought, it’s still an appealing watch. The Daughter can get pretty soapy at times, but there’s hardly an Ibsen adaptation around that can’t be accused of the same thing. What grounds the film are the compelling and realistic performances and the unadorned dialogue, as well as the film’s willingness to embrace everyday lives without resorting to unearned romantic notions of The Plight of the Working Man, in florid script and title caps.
Within a day of his arrival, Christian’s marriage begins to disintegrate, he falls off the wagon, and he learns a terrible truth about his mother’s untimely death. Christian is angry and powerless, and Oliver’s family become unwitting targets of his rage. It’s questionable whether Christian himself even knows what he’s doing, or at least whether he knows the full extent of his crimes, especially considering there are other far more appropriate people to target right there in his father’s palatial estate, but he never seems to notice.
What grounds The Daughter are the compelling and realistic performances and the unadorned dialogue, as well as the film’s willingness to embrace everyday lives without resorting to unearned romantic notions of The Plight of the Working Man, in florid script and title caps.
Through it all is the young Hedvig, an almost painfully normal teenager having to deal with the kind of working class struggles that keep so many generations stuck in circumstances they’ll never be able to change. It’s such a desiccated town that there isn’t even a place for teens to hang out, so they wind up in the cold, damp forest or an abandoned garage full of rust and dust, just to have something to do. Her only sanctuary is her grandfather’s miniature “forest,” a fenced-off area on the family land where he tends to lost and wounded animals, including a beautiful duck shot by a thoughtless Henry; Walter tends to the bird but is unsure if she’ll ever fly again.
Hedvig, like most everyone in town, is unaware of the tragedy about to unfold, courtesy of a devastated Christian looking for revenge. One moment he’s an assassin wielding the past like a gun, stalking his victims before going in for the kill, and the next he’s playacting as a noodly little sad sack whose big innocent eyes hide the venom in his veins. It’s a tremendous performance from Schneider, who puts a new spin on the old trope of the wounded-man-turned-psychopath, and without resorting to Jekyll-and-Hyde cliché. He’s a walking, talking time bomb full not of shrapnel but truth, and the question in The Daughter is not if he’ll go off, but when, and if anyone will survive.
Simon Stone's directorial debut The Daughter features fantastic performances across the board, lovely cinematography, and a moving, true to life examination of the damage that can be done when the truth is used as a weapon.