If you can’t get enough of missing teenagers then this is a golden age for you. The Killing, Mayday and Broadchurch all set themselves in a small town with a dark underbelly whose teenagers should never be left alone. And all doff their cap respectfully to Laura Palmer and Twin Peaks – the sluttiest slut, the darkest town, the bleakest Shit Creek a body was ever fished out of. Now Top of the Lake joins in the fun and if adolescents keep disappearing at this rate we’re going to have to start cloning the motherfuckers.
Laketop, New Zealand is the place and Tui Mitcham (Jacqueline Joe) is the teen. ¹ After she tries to drown herself in the lake the doc discovers she is pregnant. Luckily for Tui she has a sympathetic ear at the station – a policewoman with a background in child protection. Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) is visiting her sick mother in Laketop. Robin senses an affinity with Tui. She knows what it’s like to grow up here in deepest shitkicker country mired in isolation, violent patriarchy and dicey cellphone reception.
Robin senses an affinity with Tui. She knows what it’s like to grow up here in deepest shitkicker country mired in isolation, violent patriarchy and dicey cellphone reception.
When Tui goes missing her father and local drug baron Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan) seems strangely sanguine about it but that may be because he already has a plateful. A strange woman’s commune led by straight talking guru GJ (Holly Hunter) has cropped up on a plot of land called Paradise that was promised to Mitcham by real estate agent Bob Platt. More so than his daughter’s disappearance this really gets Matt’s goat and before you can say “check the small print” Bob Platt sleeps with the fishes in the same lake Tui tried to end her life, the same lake where Robin’s father died. Seem sinister? It should. Creepy death lake. Woooo!
So whither Tui? We know she spent a day bonding with the skanks in the commune before she split and stole a gun from her pops. She’s a smart girl, tough and armed – she might just be all right. Then again she’s a pregnant child, alone and vulnerable – she might just be fucked. It looks like Robin’s got her back at least. She looks at her and sees her young self. That heartens and terrifies her at the same time because she’s now at the mercy of Laketop and there’s something not right about this place.
But don’t let the prospect of pregnant suicidal children and dead realtors put you off. Top of the Lake is a powerful tale that slowly draws you into its eerily quiet world. Peggy Olson is great as Madame Monkfish, Jacqueline Joe’s Tui is an intriguing mystery and Holly Hunter is terrific as the charismatic GJ. The mountains, lakes and pastures are foreboding and everything has a washed out beauty to it. Pretty to look at but fatal to live in. At least that’s what I told your moms last night.²
The verdict: Come for the scenery, stay for the all pervasive sense of dread.
Marks out of 10: 8
¹ Tui is 12 and technically not a teen but like John Peel we’re not exactly asking for IDs.
² No idea.