The Island Between Tides

The Island Between Tides (2024)

The Island Between Tides had its World Première at the Cinequest 2024

The Island Between Tides opens with the looming shape of a mountain in darkness, and then cuts to the same shot, this time in daylight, with a camper van, invisible in the mountain’s shadows before, now clearly parked in the foreground. This type of shot, where the camera is fixed on a single location but time suddenly alters, will regularly punctuate the film – for even as its title evokes a place, an equally prominent part is played by time too, no less changeable than the tides, slipping backwards and forwards to create a chronotopic conundrum. 

The Island Between Tides charts a narrow channel between horror and mystery, fairytale and ghost story. If its heroine who keeps waking up in the future evokes the hero who sleeps through the American Revolution in Washington Irving’s short story Rip Van Winkle (1819), then its titular tidal island where time stops and you never grow old recalls the isle of Neverland from J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1904). In fact, though, it is another Barrie play, Mary Rose (1920), that is the primary source, in what is all once an adaptation, a reimagining and a sort-of sequel from writers/directors Austin Andrews and Andrew Holmes, taking on material that famously none other than Alfred Hitchcock failed to get made into a film. Even the island’s location at ‘Compton Sound’ alludes to Fay Compton, the actress for whom Barrie wrote the title rôle of Mary Rose.

In 1982, on a holiday with her parents and sister in the hinterlands of Northern British Columbia, little Lily (Remy Martaller) wanders to a tidal island, looking for shells – and returns in what for her feels but a few moments, but for her frantic parents Bruce (Donal Logue) and Patty (Sarah Lind) and young sister Zinnia (Rubi Tupper) has been several days of panicky searching. Now Lily obsessively sings and plays a song which she claims a ‘nice lady’ on the island taught her – and she is also drawn by the music she hears in the wind, and in her head, to a long vacant house which she claims feels like home, and into which her family now moves. This occupation of someone else’s abandoned house is a vivid metaphor for the process of adaptation itself, with its reclamation of a pre-existing property for new use. The point is underscored by the eventual revelation of who previously resided in the house (a character played by Megan Charpentier).

15 years later, in 1998, Lily (Paloma Kwiatkowski) is still living with her family in that house, with a young son (Jared) of her own, when, reminded by Zinnia (Camille Sullivan) of the incident at the tidal island, she heads back there to try to retrace the missing episode from her own childhood. After napping all afternoon beneath the island’s trees, and this time meeting a man with a scar on his forehead, Lily returns to the mainland – only to realise that, although she herself has not aged more than a day, it is now 2023, her mother has died, her father is an old man, Zinnia is now married with a boy (Sebastian Cooper) of her own, and Jared (David Mazouz) has grown up to be a psychologically disturbed loner who self-medicates with illegal opiates to get the ghosts out of his head.

Yet as the confused Lily reintroduces herself to her delighted father and more conflicted sister (“No, we’re not doing this again”, is Zinnia’s initial response upon seeing her), Lily also sees ghosts, and so joins Jared, who is now older than she is and thinks she’s his sister, in an attempt to understand their shared experience, and to get closer to her ‘boy’. When Lily asks Jared who the ghosts are, he corrects her interrogative to when, explaining, “People live their whole lives not knowing the past is all around them.” Yet where Jared lives in abject terror of the ‘visitors’ – especially the violent man with the eye patch (Derek Hamilton) who hunts him, and the ‘hanging man’ he first saw as a child – Lily looks upon them with growing curiosity and empathy, not least because she not merely believes but knows that there is a better place beyond, where time collapses and anxieties and unhappiness, like herself, vanish.

The past is indeed all around these characters in their small coastal town. Whether it is colonial history, or epigenetic trauma, or a family legacy of mental illness, or a tradition of abuse and male violence, or literal ghosts who, like Lily and Jared, see time as a dream, The Island Between Tides shows a community caught between past and present, fear and beauty, despair and hope, literary origins and cinematic form, with only Lily – “one of life’s great mysteries,” as her father says of her –  privileged to see past time to what matters, and only the film to paint us a paradoxical, panoramic picture. This is a peculiar myth, playing on issues of faith and afterlife without ever adopting any particular religious frame, and suggesting that art alone can offer us a glimpse into the ineffable, the impenetrable and the timeless.

strap: Austin Andrews and Andrew Holmes’ ghostly mystery traps a young woman in time, and in a paradoxical paradise

© Anton Bitel