Nine Perfect Strangers
Tranquillum House looks inviting enough, but a wellness guru keeps her guests on edge in a new Amazon Prime drama.
Everybody on Nine Perfect Strangers has something to hide.
In its idyllic Tranquillum House setting, both guests and staff of this lush, Californian health retreat are searching for one-ness but how they get there is an unsettling 8 part journey.
There are 9 exclusive guests when the series, based on a book by Liane Moriarty, opens.
High school teacher Napoleon (Michael Shannon), wife Heather (Asher Keddie) and teen daughter Zoe (Grave Van Patten) are a family in pain; Lamborghini-driving Ben (Melvin Gregg) and his glam Insta Jessica (Samara Weaving); frazzled romance novelist Frances (Melissa McCarthy); newly-single gay man Lars (Luke Evans); divorcee Carmel (Regina Hall); and combative man-with-secret Tony (Bobby Cannavale). Okay, they’re not all strangers I guess…
Drawing them for 10 days of transformation is Russian guru Masha (Nicole Kidman), whose soft but striking presence challenges them to look inward and reconnect -literally- with the Earth. Masha seemingly floats on air to her guests and peers into souls with precision. But she too has a mysterious past and thinks nothing of covert spying with closed circuit cameras.
Three Tranquillum staff include the peacefully present Yao (Manny Jacinto), the positive, smiling Delilah (Tiffany Boone) and Glory (Zoe Terakes).
Episode one written by David E. Kelley & John-Henry Butterworth has so much set-up it’s hard to grasp where this is headed, but the arrival of the guests separates them from their daily lives (and phones) and first impressions are deliberately jarring. Some are regretting committing, but for others such as Heather, it’s their one big hope.
“This is going to be the best thing. I just know it. It has to be,” says Heather.
But Masha makes big promises and her team revere their leader.
“We’re gonna get you well…. it will be sometime unpleasant,” she warns Frances, later telling her guests, “In 10 days you will leave here, you will not be the person you are now.”
Despite it’s exotic location, director Jonathan Levine ripples the story with an unsettling, even sinister, undertone. What is puppet-master Masha not telling her guests…. is she who she says she is…. what Lost-like past histories will unravel under the perfect state of Tranquillum and will the guests break-through or break down?
Similarities to the recent White Lotus may be quickly raised, but there’s more layers here and less satire at work. Performances by Asher Keddie, Michael Shannon and Manny Jacinto are amongst the stand-outs while a towering-Kidman is driven by stillness and a Russian accent that’s a bit distracting.
The other star is the serene Byron Bay location. At first glance I’d tip this to do wonders for the local staycation industry. If you’re in lockdown, it’s a rainforest escape, but your desire to live it for real may be directly related to the inherent costs and how truly twisted the story becomes… at least you don’t have to go to California to make it come true.
Whether the creative team can match the extraordinary success of Big Little Lies remains to be seen but from the safety of your couch be glad you’re not one of these nine souls in need of a spiritual compass. Namaste.
Nine Perfect Strangers screens Friday August 20 on Amazon Prime Video.