Jodelle Ferland with her best friend Mustique on her finger. Don't ask.
The film of Tideland is possibly one of my favourite experiences of the year. A desultory small audience for the 6:45pm screening at the Curzon Soho were treated to what I was lead to believe would be a difficult, sometimes unwatchable Gilliam event. Admittedly I was led to believe this by reports of walkouts at press screenings and by Gilliam himself. You see just before the film starts, Tezza rocks up himself (on film, not in person) and pops a disclaimer before the film. He says that some of us will like it, some of us will hate it. He asks us to strip away any preconceptions and try to put ourselves into the the role of Jeliza-Rose, the ten year old protagonist. To not pre-judge scenes, and oh – by the way – to laugh.

I almost thought he was going to offer us our money back if we did not like it. But then Gilliam hasn’t got that kind of cash sloshing around. If you were to run some sort of Producers style scam with regards to movies, Gilliam is the Roger DeBris of the profitable movie game. And what he is talking about is the barely sexual scenes in the film.

So lowered expectations going in, coupled with Gilliam himself warning me off meant I was not really hoping for more than just getting through and seeing a few nice images (he is good at that). Tideland is a remarkably odd film, but it does not blow away many preconceptions of childhood or consciousness. It is however a film that sticks rigidly to its lead – Jodelle Ferland who plays Jeliza-Rose. And your enjoyment of the film depends on whether you can see the unwitting mental torture of a disturbed but stoical ten year old for two hours. Me, I can’t think of anything more fascinating.

Ferland is captivating without being cute, and the film would not work without her. Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly are out of the equation within fifteen minutes, and then its just Jeliza-Rose talking to herself (or her found imaginary friends / future fractured personalities). The Alice meets Psycho line was trotted out by Gilliam, and it is a remarkably literal one. But what it potentially misses is our sympathy for a child who may have already seen too much, and pushed into some sort of madness in later life. Skewed views of life and death, drugs and sex leave the formidable Jeliza-Rose with a problem when she does integrate into any kind of society. Indeed the final sequence, when an equally lost adult suggests they “look after each other” fades out with just Ferlands eyes on the screen. The reverse Cheshire Cat of this fade is notable that it does not leave with her smile (there is none), but these eyes which have seen and processed all this horror without question. The eyes of Jeliza-Rose are suddenly at that moment quite frightening. It is the compelling back story of what possibly could turn out to be a dull mad serial killer, that is the Psycho angle that calls out to me, and what makes the mess of Tideland so compelling.

(When you look at her CV it isn’t surprising that this ambiguity in her character comes out. She’s played the Devil already.)