Perfect Strangers - Review 4

October 2003
by Ruth Hessey


Who knows why we have to wait so long for Rachael Blake to turn up on screen. Suffer no more, as Blake (Wildside, Lantana) is indeed the star, engine and salt of PERFECT STRANGERS, a new film not from Australia incidentally, but from our somewhat more perceptive, if risk-happy, filmmaking neighbours in New Zealand.

Gaylene Preston has carved out an impressive career as a documentary filmmaker in NZ. WAR STORIES Our Mothers Never Told Us (1995) was actually a box office hit there. Twenty years after the first inkling of PERFECT STRANGERS knocked on her head, she has brought the film to fruition through a dazzling collaboration with New Zealand's legendary best – from Sam Neill playing opposite Blake to Alun Bollinger, the cinematographer whose name pops up in the camera department credits of some of the most significant NZ films ever made (including Vincent Ward's Vigil, Jane Campion's The Piano and Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures and Rings Trilogy.

Preston has written a perverse fairytale played out as a journey to the heart of darkness. Blake's Melanie oozes sexual confidence and challenge as she prowls the bars of a small New Zealand town. Is she still looking for Mr Right, or does her glamour hide the soul of a woman dying inside?

Preston hurls this quite recognisable 21st Century every woman into every woman's worst nightmare. Is the handsome man (Neill) she picks up one fateful night her prince come at last, or has her game of romantic roulette played its last shot?

Most of the action takes place on a deserted island as wild and lush as any Garden of Eden, with memorable sequences at sea and during tremendous storms. Set against this tempestuous natural environment Preston drives her heroine through the emotional equivalent of extreme sports. Its not just a case of physical survival a la Dead Calm. Melanie's existential journey takes her to the brink of madness. And where does she go from there?

Some will find the ending of PERFECT STRANGERS presents one twist too many in the heroine's psychological evolution. But in another way, Preston's decision to include 'a happy ever after.' Is the final challenge of a riveting thriller, and signals another chapter lurking in the wings.