A fascinating, intellectual and profound exploration of the psyches of four uniquely damaged characters: two boys who never quite left the womb, growing up in a small and affluent community far removed from reality, with one father figure MIA, the other passive and disconnected, and only their mothers for comfort and company; and two women, who never conquered their fears of aging or their struggles with self-esteem and sexual confidence, and whose intimate love for each other and need to feel young and desired manifest themselves in dangerous liaisons with each other's sons.
The premise is disturbing and unrealistic but a major strength of the film is that the characters' actions feel believable and understandable: but never condoned or really condemned. We are given such insight into their island-like community, their lifestyles, their dynamics and their psyches that it's perfectly clear why they fall into these simultaneously symbiotic and parasitic relationships. There is a nuance and an apathy to the directing that encourage the audience to focus more on the "how" and "why" rather than the "what." The film is never sexy or erotic because there is so much loneliness, pain and desperation in the sex scenes. The ocean metaphors strengthen the storytelling but never overwhelm it, and there is one particularly profound scene when Watts and Wright's granddaughters are lifted out of the very water that pulled them under and destroyed them.
The film lags around the mid-point, once the quartet has fallen into a rhythm and so there is no more conflict or tension, but picks up again once their group dynamic and Watts' character's happiness are threatened. The ending is disconcerted and unexpected, but on reflection, given the film's themes and the characters' self- destructiveness, it couldn't have convincingly ended any other way.
Wright and Watts do career-best work here (people who think Watts is often overwrought will like her here, I think) - both give understated but incredibly complex performances and create living, breathing, three- dimensional people out of these initially unbelievable women. Their guilt, neediness and agony are ever-present in their eyes even as the characters try to remain composed and rational. The boys aren't given as much to do but Xavier Samuel perfectly captures the confidence and faux-invulnerability of adolescence. It's also the first time Watts has laughed on screen in what must be years now, which is nice to see!
Overall, in spite of some silly dialogue, it's riveting, labyrinthine, and unique - it's been a very long time since an English-language film explored female sexuality and psychology as intimately and impartially as this one does. It feels more at home with 90's French dramas like La belle noiseuse and La cérémonie than it does in 2013. I'm not entirely surprised it's received such a hateful and crude reaction online, but it has a lot more to offer than a controversial setting, and I hope audiences will be able to look past the premise and see it not as an "issue film" but as the perceptive and devastating character study that it really is.