Perfect Strangers (2003)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Gaylene Preston Reviewer :
Writers Gaylene Preston
Starring Sam Neill, Rachael Blake, Joel Tobeck
Genre Psychological
Tagline A chilling romance
15 second cap Two individuals searching for love find they are each other's worse nightmare, in a supportive fashion


"I hate the bush .... people wander in there and they never come out." - Melanie

Melanie works in a fish and chip shop in a small remote Kiwi town serving the locals and tourists but not really going anywhere. Weekends are spent down the local Pub cracking onto anyone who looks interesting or at least hot, in the company of her two workmates. Melanie is tired of being tied to local Bill and is looking for something slightly more exotic. Enter "The Man" an enigmatic stranger who has all the right moves, and on the bright side isn't falling down drunk.

Naturally she ends up back at his place, which turns out to be a boat of unfathomable purpose. Melanie falls asleep, must be a local custom, and wakes the next day to find they are on the open ocean with no land in sight. The stranger is taking her to his "castle", a shack on a windswept Island as insanely he is in love with her. Unfortunately for our would be Knight in shining armour Melanie isn't the most stable chick on the coast, one of the weirder romance movies ensues. Wonder if we'll get invited to the wedding?

Perfect Strangers is one of those movies you are expecting to go in one direction that suddenly changes it up and throws a curve ball at you to excellent effect. Director Preston keeps in low key throughout and focuses on the psychological rather than the action, naturally losing teens along the way. Sorry folks if after another knife wielding maniac flick then you are in the wrong movie, this is all about character development, or descent, or something, and pretty much nothing to do with blowing shite up or showing car chases. Dear I say it, we're talking an adult orientated movie that doesn't pander to the lowest common horror denominator. While I dig a horror rampage my real love of the genre comes from the slow moving intense flicks that make you think beyond the title, as opposed to the vast amount of horror flicks that explain every minute detail to the nth degree for audiences who have the attention spans of earwigs.

Preston gets her movie out of the harbour with a pretty solid representation of small Kiwi town life that watches the world go by while keeping it off the streets. Notably the intro is pretty much all filmed at night, referencing the Gothic quality of Kiwi horror cinema, one of these days someone is going to take that up a step into the current century, but let's hope that's a ways off. As one would expect the center of life is the local pub, full of drinkers, a band remorseless going through their set, and the odd out of Towner who immediately attracts the eye of Melanie and her friends. In the hands of Hollywood at about this stage we would queue the inbreed Hillbillies and the barbeque would be fired up. Preston introduces "The Man", a charismatic stranger who has style enough to sweep Melanie off her feet and away down the moonlit streets. There's a hell of a lot going on with the Pub scene, but we're not exactly a film school here, catch the movie and break it down for yourself.

Without giving too much away, "The Man" is the answer to Melanie's dreams and wants, but just not quite in the package she may have wanted. Neill plays it intense and sombre, you can readily expect his character to explode into simmering violence, it does breakout in one scene, but you are also left in awe of Neill's intensity. Dude is either the most romantic person on the planet or is a complete psycho with more psychological problems than Regan MacNeil in the pea soup lane at her local supermarket. Neill is such an excellent choice for the role, he rocks it out, and makes you a believer in a character that sort of comes on faster than we would normally give credence to.

A great intense horror movie that is aimed at an adult demographic as opposed to the more moronic horror element.

But Gaylene Preston isn't finished with us, boy does this movie go in a strange direction. I'm not about to give spoilers away here, but the middle third of the movie focuses on Melanie who shows she isn't exactly the most level headed individual in the world either. Surprisingly Mel is seduced by the situation she finds herself in, the wild environment, and the charms of a stranger who brings the romance to a particularly non-romantic town lifestyle. For Kiwis, and those immersed in Kiwi cinema, we're looking at the descent into the darkness of the New Zealand bush. We're talking "woman alone" pretty much, make your own deductions from there, I've said enough.

The final block of the movie kicks in the supernatural elements, though it's all psychological and less Toby going paranormal on our bums. Melanie makes at least one decision that'll have you wondering whether there wasn't some lazy script writing involved, but there was an internal logic for those who want to think things through. Gaylene Preston isn't explaining things to the final breath of life in the flick, work a few things out for yourself. See what I mean by an adult orientated movie, low attention spanners are going to hate this one.

As hinted at previously in this review the rugged New Zealand coastline is pretty much a character unto itself, unfortunately I think an Australian Director would have made more of the foreboding natural of the environment, Preston misses a trick there, we're talking isolation and the encroaching wilderness, you ain't living in Auckland Dorothy. Unfortunately Preston doesn't linger on what might be watching from the darkness, slipping in chills from hinting at things, or in any other way adding a layer of atmosphere and tension.

The other major issue I had with the movie is things happen a tad too quickly for my liking, the character descents needed some further framework and more exploration of the why. Preston misses adequately showing the passing of time so some scenes come as a surprise rather than a natural progression from previous scenes in terms of character situation. Not going to say any more here as we are edging real close to spoilers.

Overall I had good times with the movie but am left wondering if folk with no experience of New Zealand will entirely get the beat being laid down here by Gaylene Preston. It's an intense psychological drama with hints of supernatural overtones without driving directly to downtown Horror-ville, sorry not a movie for teens who want instant gratification in their movie fare rather than a gradually development of the flavours. If in doubt check out the comments on the imdb entry for the movie, proof positive some people need to learn the internet doesn't give them carte blanche to point out to the rest of us how mentally challenged they are. Recommended to folks who like their dark genre psychologically orientated rather than teen lite, there's a dark rumble to this movie that will have people sitting up and taking notice.

As ever, when we talk New Zealand cinema, the place to check the movie out as is New Zealand Videos. Which pretty much will cover your places to score a copy if wanting to see what's toast on the coast.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  A dark mesmerising movie that skews to an older viewer, Sam Neill once again rocks.