DAVID BIANCULLI

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From Australia, 'Tidelands' Debuts on Netflix
December 14, 2018  | By David Hinckley
 
 
The once pristine image of mermaids takes another hit in Tidelands, a scary and violent new supernatural drama from Netflix.
 
Tidelands, an Australian series that becomes available Friday, isn’t exactly a mermaid drama. It takes place mostly on land, where the characters have two regular legs, not one long swishy tail.
 
But some of those apparent humans, in reality, are half-human and half-siren. They’re called Tidelanders, and they live in their own little enclave near Orphelin Bay in Australia.
 
They aren’t inherently predatory. They’re just nothing like the charming, sweet and innocent mermaids of children’s literature and video fame.
 
They’ve got secrets, like everyone else in Orphelin Bay, and many of those secrets are embodied in the Tidelander queen, Adrielle Cuthbert (Elsa Pataky).
 
Adrielle employs seduction and violence, among other tools, to keep Tidelanders safe and to manipulate the local human population.
 
The seduction, for the record, is mostly implied or teased. The violence is not. Half the budget for Tidelands must have been allocated for fake blood.
 
While we gradually learn the extent to which Adrielle dictates the action here, we follow that story primarily through Cal McTeer (Charlotte Best), who grew up in Orphelin Bay, spent the last ten years in women’s prison, and has now returned.
 
She reunites with her brother Augie (Aaron Jakubenko), with whom she has a close bond, and her mother, with whom she has none. Contact with Mom is not optional, however, because Mom is the trustee of Cal’s father’s estate, so if Cal is going to claim her share, she has to look up Mom. It’s not hard – Mom, an alcoholic, bought the town bar.
 
Cal soon learns, however, that Orphelin Bay has enough secrets for everyone. Both the good and not-so-good people have them, and unsurprisingly, many turn out to involve the Tidelanders.
 
Among the mysteries with which Cal is confronted: the way some folks in what is nominally a subsistence-level fishing village have amassed substantial amounts of cash.
 
Seems there’s a little side industry going on, and while Cal has no moral objection to entrepreneurs seizing an opportunity to earn some cash, she’s less enchanted with the fact that this surreptitious pursuit seems to have left a number of locals dead.
 
Despite whispered words of wisdom that she should just let it be, Cal decides to try unraveling some of that mystery. At times she uses the skill of a cop, abetted by an old village friend named Corey Welch (Mattias Inwood) who became a real cop during her time away. At other times she uses the skills of a criminal.
 
And oh yes, there’s also that supernatural thing, which can show up at the most critical and opportune moments.
 
In some ways, Tidelands plays like an extended action-mystery drama, employing systematic evidence-gathering elements and moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a police procedural. Those are then supplemented with intangible forces that can, for instance, suddenly keep someone alive who seems quite certainly dead.
 
Best does a good job anchoring the story in a challenging role, and the rest of the cast holds up its end. Pataky, in particular, oozes menace.
 
Tidelands itself, however, feels uneven. Some stretches keep us fully engaged. A few leave us wondering whether we’ve walked into a horror flick with an unusually large number of extended subplots.
 
And while it’s true that it’s increasingly hard to find groups that make acceptable villains these days, it’s hard to believe mermaids are even on the list.
 
 
 
 
 
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