Little Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) lives in a chaotic, turbulent home with heroin addicts for parents. When her mother (Jennifer Tilly) dies of an overdose, her father, Noah (Jeff Bridges), takes her to her grandma’s isolated house in the country. But grandma’s dead, too, and Noah dies in the armchair – although Jeliza-Rose pretends he’s still just asleep. Likewise, her imagination gives voice and life to her four Barbie dolls – at least their heads, since that’s all that’s left of them. When she meets her nearest neighbour, the black veiled, witch-like, one-eyed Dell (Janet McTeer), her world spins even further out of register. Dell’s young, retarded and epileptic brother, Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), takes to Jeliza-Rose and the two become fast friends, escaping to their imaginations from a world whose reality is too ghastly.
Terry Gilliam begins “Tideland” with an amusingly ominous introduction, urging us to return, as he did, to a state of childlike innocence to best appreciate what is surely the most daring film of his maverick career.
Just as surely, “Tideland” will be misunderstood by those who fail to heed Gilliam’s advice, since innocent perspective is essential to grasping what Gilliam aptly describes as “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Psycho.” Unfortunately, the shield of innocence won’t entirely protect viewers from this two-hour slog through a nightmarish childhood.