Videophiled TVD: The Haunting ‘Top of the Lake’

Top of the Lake (BBC, DVD) is another exhibit in the case that TV is the new cinema. It’s created and written by Oscar nominated filmmaker Jane Campion with Gerard Lee and Campion directs or co-directs almost every episode, including the opening episodes. A coproduction between BBC, Screen Australia, Screen NWW, ARTE and The Sundance Channel, it’s an international project set in rural New Zealand with performers from the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and it made its American debut at the Sundance Film Festival before going to the Sundance Channel and Netflix, (The six-hour production was presented over seven episodes on the Sundance Channel and Netflix and six episodes at the Sundance Film Festival; the disc features the six-episode version).

This is an original novel for television, a dark drama built around the mystery of a pregnant 12-year-old girl lake who goes missing and a young outsider detective specializing in adolescent victims (Elisabeth Moss with a variable accent) who is technically on vacation but actually there to look after her mother, who is dying of cancer. The mystery hangs over the entire six hours but the story revolves around the characters and the unsettling atmosphere of the community as she churns up the uneasy frontier existence with her investigation.

Peter Mullan is (no surprise) intimidating as the girl’s father, a feudal mountain patriarch who runs his mountain spread like a duchy outside of police jurisdiction and a feared landowner who uses unspoken threats and unrepentent violence to keep his power and manage his independence. Holly Hunter is odd and fascinating as an American self-help guru in a makeshift commune of damaged women, and David Wenham is unreliable as the closest thing this community has to an enlightened authority figure, and it’s not very close.

My only complaint is that there is no Blu-ray edition and no supplements. The setting, the atmosphere, the sense of isolation and haunting beauty is a defining element of the production. The disc looks fine but it deserves a superior presentation. And maybe an interview with Campion. I’d like to know more about where this came from. Six episodes on two discs, no supplements.

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