Perfect Strangers - Review 18
16 July 2003
by Louise Keller
A challenging and intriguing film that never lets you off the hook until the very last frame, Perfect Strangers is for those who like their love stories wild and way off centre. While at times the storyline veers dangerously to the edge of credibility, the film never loses its appeal and we are never sure what is going to happen next.
Written, produced and directed by award-winning New Zealand filmmaker Gaylene Preston, the film is superbly shot and produced and its haunting music score is an integral part of its fabric. The complexity of the script demands much from the very small cast: Sam Neill and Rachel Blake are superb, offering myriads of colours from a never-ending palette. The blend of reality, fantasy, adventure and romance is a beguiling one, and the fact that Melanie's protagonist is such a down to earth, no-nonsense type, compounds the impact of the events.
When Melanie meets the stranger in the bar, after a long day's work, there's something different about him from the other men she meets. He lights her cigarette, their eyes meet, and when he answers 'Italy' to her question about where his shoes come from, as they dance, we can sense the appeal immediately. 'Your place or mine?' he asks; 'Yours - I've been to mine,' she answers, quick as a flash.
But her elation soon turns to terror as darkness, claustrophobia and the incessant sound of water pummels her brain. Echoing themes from John Fowles' The Collector, Melanie realises she is an object of desire to her captor, and the combination of romantic allure with forceful coercion is frightening and bizarre, especially given their isolated location. Wonderfully incongruous images capture our imagination. Like the scene when Melanie is immersed in a very full bath surrounded by white burning candles, while the stranger stands in the kitchen next door chopping off the head of the chicken they are about to eat for dinner. Clothes are laid out for her - a silk camisole, a black dress and pearls- and he has poetry and promises as his offering, rejecting sexual advances until his love is reciprocated.
New Zealand's wild West Coast makes a perfect setting, with its stony beaches, jagged rocks and stormy grey waves: the location moans and groans, just like the characters. I like the inventive costumes, which utilise every-day clothing to suit the circumstances. As the plot thickens and events become more and more chilling (literally), the relationship between the characters takes an unexpected turn.
A chilling story about obsession, Perfect Strangers puts a dent in the mould of fairy tale romance by allowing the prey to become the hunter: the ingredients of love and fear are roughly stirred to deliver a magical combo.