Evil Angels (1988)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Lindy (Meryl Streep) and Michael Chamberlain (Sam Neill), along with their three children, two boys and a baby girl, decide to visit the outback and camp at Ayers Rock overnight. While enjoying a barbecue, Lindy thinks it does no harm to leave her nine-week-old daughter in their tent while the infant sleeps. When Lindy returns to the barbecue area, only a couple of feet away, they hear a baby-like noise. When the mother checks on her child, she discovers a dingo rummaging about the tent. It runs away, but the baby is nowhere to be found. What is found are blood stains all over sleeping bags. The baby is eventually found dead and the Chamberlains are thrown into a media frenzy with claims of Lindy murdering her child and Michael being an accessory.
“Evil Angels,” also known as “A Cry in the Dark,” is based on a true story supporting the idea that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Although the film follows a familiar set-up involving a tragedy, the gathering of evidence, and the eventual courtroom interrogation, it remains a highly engaging experience because the answers and emotions that the screenplay chooses to tackle are consistently given enough shades of doubt that we want to arrive at our own conclusions. Many viewers, including myself, may be aware of the court rulings and what has come to light but having knowledge about it does not lessen the experience—a testament to the skill and thought behind Robert Caswell and Fred Schepisi’s writing.
The manipulation of the media becomes a character in the film. Naturally, the media will want to cover and report what has transpired in Ayers Rock to the Australian public. But there comes a time when we wonder at which point the reporters and journalists have crossed the line. The editing is swift and to the point, so insidious and numbing that it is almost like watching a bacteriophage invading a healthy cell to make more copies of itself. The more word-of-mouth is expressed, the more ridiculous theories are created. Since ordinary people react so strongly, in one instance folks claiming that “the dingo is innocent” with an underlying emphasis on an animal’s life having more value than a person’s, the people responsible of what is shown on television and radio stations, magazines, and newspapers want to give them more. It then becomes about economy rather than searching for the truth and doing what’s right for the people who happened to have this tragedy inflicted upon them.
More interesting is the fact that Lindy and Michael are very open in sharing what they think happened prior to the disappearance of their newborn. Being a part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and faith being an important part of the couple’s identity, it seems as though they consider it their role to express their grief as a chance to help others. I do not agree with the way they deal with their situation, but the filmmakers work to make us want to understand and feel compassion for the Chamberlains even though we might deal with the same problem in a different manner.
Streep showcases her range by embodying a scalding frostiness during her character’s interviews, which fuels the public’s opinion of Lindy being a CHB, and warmth as well as sense of humor when she’s solely with family and friends. Neill is not as versatile, sometimes hitting false notes when expressing grief, but he holds his own against Streep especially during the scene when his wife, very pregnant, is roasting while Michael is freezing and wishes to turn the air conditioner off. Their argument may appear to be about the air conditioner but I reckon it’s about how angry and frustrated they are for being scrutinized in everything they do. I wish there had been more scenes like that because it serves as a reminder that the film, directed by Fred Schepisi and based on the novel by John Bryson, is a human story first and an infamous case second.