The Dry, 2021.
Directed by Robert Connolly.
Starring Eric Bana, Genevieve O’Reilly, Keir O’Donnell, John Polson, Matt Nable, Eddie Baroo, Martin Dingle Wall, Bruce Spence, BeBe Bettencourt, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Miranda Tapsell, Renee Lim, James Frecheville, William Zappa, Nick Farnell, Joe Klocek, Sam Corlett, Claude Scott-Mitchell, Bessie Holland, and Francine McAsey.
Aaron Falk returns to his drought-stricken hometown to attend a tragic funeral. But his return opens a decades-old wound – the unsolved death of a teenage girl.
Unsettling viewers to set the tone right from the start, The Dry opens with haunting imagery depicting the immediate aftermath of what appears to be a double murder-suicide. A woman lies in the front door hallway shot dead and bloodied, as does a young boy somewhere off-camera. The only sounds filling up this display of senseless violence are buzzing flies and the screams of an infant thankfully spared. As such, a mystery is established in the small town of Kiewarra, Australia, which appears to be in the middle of a two-year-long drought that has no ending in sight.
Based on Jane Harper’s novel of the same name and co-written and directed by Robert Connolly (collaborating on the screenplay with Harry Cripps and Samantha Strauss), this is a rather complex whodunnit that encompasses two separate deaths 20 years apart that may or may not share a connection. Leading the investigation is Aaron Falk (Eric Bana, returning to film strongly with arguably one of his best performances here), a federal agent summoned back to the dusty town harboring dark secrets since he was once best friends with Luke, the man accused of gunning down his wife and young son before taking his own life. Kiewarra doesn’t take too kindly to Aaron’s return as his original exit all those years ago was clouded with suspicion of a different murder, and perhaps more damning, a murder that Luke either also carried out himself or one he helped his friend to get away with by working together on an alibi.
Two individuals are welcoming to Aaron’s reemergence, and they would be the parents of Luke, who steadfast believe their son is not capable of murder and that something else must have been going on. After some pleading and persuasion, Aaron decides to get a hotel room and team up with local deputy Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell). At this point, we get some procedural interviews and a critical assessment of various clues gathered. Flashbacks are also perfectly peppered into the narrative from Aaron’s perspective; memories of a troubled young woman named Ellie that was tragically found drowned after planning to meet up with him at the lake, a spot gradually picking up sentimental value the closer they became.
What ensues is a double investigation exploring a town of many secrets, lies, guilt, and shame. Nearly every character feels responsible in some way for the death of Ellie, but it seems they haven’t necessarily learned any lessons from that tragedy and are right back in the same situation with the loss of Karen. Intriguingly, The Dry sometimes feels less concerned with a straightforward and clear-cut uncovering of either killer’s identity (maybe they aren’t even the same person and the cases are less connected than they appear to be), wisely honing in on the psychological evaluation of cyclical tragedy and how these townspeople have allowed such a bleakness to repeat. It’s the rare murder mystery that’s presented so compellingly with a vast array of complicated characters that it wouldn’t necessarily be a bummer if there are no black-and-white answers to be found.
What I will say is that one major reveal notwithstanding, The Dry remains tricky to pin down and character-focused. And while it feels like there could be a bit more depth and exploration behind one of its surprises, the road it leads both characters and viewers down is emotionally gripping and harrowing. Coupled with gorgeous landscape shots from cinematographer Stefan Duscio conveying the loneliness and compositions evoking that the town swallows up its residents, leaving them unable to escape, The Dry matches the somber, suspenseful, and reflective tone with striking imagery. The quietness and subtlety of Eric Bana’s performance suggest the reality of this town that even the kindest characters have a dirty little secret. All of those revelations pack a punch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com