I’m not sure why everything isn’t filmed in New Zealand. Sure, Southern California has nice beaches and nearby mountains and a big city, but … New Zealand — have you looked at pictures of New Zealand?
Sundance Channel is airing a seven-part miniseries from director Jane Campion called Top of the Lake, a crime drama filmed in New Zealand. Elisabeth Moss plays a young police detective who, while home visiting her cancer-stricken mother, gets drawn into the case of a missing 12-year-old girl who also happens to be five-months pregnant.
The plot is a bit familiar (at least through the first three episodes): Robin Griffin (Moss) is basically Clarice Starling, a conscientious cop trying to conduct serious business while battling male-chauvinist colleagues and her own personal demons. When you’re telling an oft-told tale like this one, it helps if your supporting characters add luster. And boy, do the supporting characters add luster to Top of the Lake.
Peter Mullan is rough, gruff, tough and — surprisingly — quite funny as the apparent villain, a drug lord named Matt Mitcham, father of the missing girl and several adult sons with biblical names, if not leanings. Holly Hunter is also in the cast as the spiritual guru of a tribe of middle-aged women living in “Paradise,” a makeshift commune that is, unluckily, located on land that Mitcham considers family territory.
(I’d like to add that David Wenham, as Griffin’s sort-of boss and potential romantic interest, also lends wonderful support to the drama. I’d like to say that, but I have to be honest: With his mumbling delivery and heavy New Zealand accent, I couldn’t understand a word that Wenham said.)
Campion, sharing directing duties with Garth Davis, lets the actors and story proceed at a leisurely pace, but don’t equate “leisurely” with tedious; this mystery takes unexpected turns and has a chilly, pervasive sense of doom. But the real star of the production is New Zealand — the spectacular mountains, hills, and lakes. These stunning vistas put Hollywood, California, to shame. Grade: A-
Directors: Jane Campion, Garth Davis Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, Thomas M. Wright, Holly Hunter, David Wenham, Jacqueline Joe, Gavin Rutherford, Jay Ryan, Genevieve Lemon, Robyn Malcolm Release: 2013
Watch the Trailer and Clips (click here)
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