Title: A Cry in the Dark
Original Title: Evil Angels
Country: Australia, USA
Director: Fred Schepisi
Music: Bruce Smeaton
Cinematography: Ian Baker
Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell
Best remembered by cinephiles as the film won Meryl Streep a Cannes BEST ACTRESS trophy and is among one of her 19 Oscar-nominated performances, A CRY IN THE DARK is a faithful adaptation of a sensational true story in Australia, about Lindy Chamberlain (Streep), a mother of three, and her parson husband Michael (Neill), the former is accused of murdering her newborn baby daughter during a camping trip in Ayers Rock in 1980, while she claims the baby is snatched by a dingo, and the latter is charged as an accessory. Now this case is already cleared as their convictions have been overturned in 1988 when new key evidence emerges.
Before watching the movie, I have no idea how the story will wind up, all I know is that it is a thorny case of whether a mother murders her own child or not, so I conjecture it would straddle the key issue of the mother’s innocence, but director Fred Schepisi (SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION 1993) gives a firm hand in exerting Lindy’s innocence, and vigilantly indicts the media’s hullabaloo and hyper coverage, the spuriousness lies in the forensic system and the public’s collective impressionability maliciously based on mislead first impression and personal prejudice.
The Chamberlains are Seventh-Day Adventists, the tragedy and its segueing emotional toll also affect their beliefs, not to mention the vicious allegations of their cultish sacrifice, especially for Michael, who implores God for a reason to take away their daughter, cries out that hell can’t be worse than this when they are on trial for a egregious but fictitious crime, his unraveling is perceptibly characterised by a blond Sam Neill. Running parallel to Michael’s deterioration, Meryl’s Lindy is the backbone of the whole myth, she is not a grieving mother who is all teary-eyed and rueful of her ephemeral inattention, she is tougher than her husband, not intend to indulge in grievance as life must go on, so in front of the camera, she seems aloof, withheld, a shade indignant, which generates a negative impression among the spectators, when malign rumours run amok, she tries to right the falsehood with more media involvement which is sardonically a wishful thinking. I’m no expert of accent, but it is swell to watch Meryl articulate a New Zealand accent (Lindy is New Zealand born in real life) without any feigned effort betrayed. Here Meryl shines magnificently all through to be unfathomable and detached, even during the most pulverising point, she is resolutely staunch, and her scenes in the courtroom are paradigm of balancing heart-rending outburst with constrained implosion, it is ok to being wronged, it is not the end-of-the-world, but since she doesn’t kill her baby, there is no guilty conscience exuded as all the onlookers are eagerly expecting in front of their televisions.
Aesthetically the film is more in line with a solid TV movie sending many significant social messages, but there are way too many gratuitous reaction shots of bystanders thrust every now and then, as they can hardly have any saying versus the final verdict, it serves only as a repeated reminder of how ignorant is the public and how easily they can be influenced by a manufactured national hoopla. It seems that Schepisi pushes fairly too hard this time, otherwise, the film remains comparatively relatable and if you adore Meryl Streep, it goes without saying that you should not let it slip through your fingers.