The Dry (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A dry but compelling outback mystery thriller

Australian film “The Dry” is a dry but compelling outback mystery thriller to be admired for several good reasons. Besides its solid plot which ably handles its two main mysteries, the movie is fully shrouded in the palpable sense of locations and people, and we find ourselves more immersed into its vast and remote rural background while also wondering more about what will be eventually revealed along the story.

After the calm but chilling opening scene, the movie begins to unfold the story via the viewpoint of a federal agent named Aaron Falk (Eric Bana). Many years ago, Aaron and his father left their rural hometown for some serious incident, but now he is requested to return to his hometown because of the funeral of his close friend, and he does not feel that comfortable about that in addition to being disturbed by the circumstance surrounding his friend’s death. It seems that, for some unknown reason, his friend killed his wife and their young son before committing suicide later, and the town is still reeling from the shock from this horrible incident when Aaron arrives before the funeral.

Although many years have passed since that old incident associated with him, there are some people who do not welcome Aaron’s presence much, and Aaron certainly prefers to leave as soon as possible once the funeral is over, but then he is held by the desperate request from his dead friend’s parents. He is not so sure about whether he can actually do anything for them, but he has no choice but to accept their request mainly because the dead friend’s father knows something about that old incident.

As Aaron reluctantly embarks on unofficially helping the investigation supervised by the local police sergeant, we get a series of flashback scenes showing the relationships among Aaron, his dead friend, and two girls who were close to them. Around that time when that old incident occurred, these four kids frequently hung around with each other outside, but then one of these two girls was found dead at a spot where they usually spent time together. For a reason to be revealed later in the story, Aaron was instantly regarded as the prime suspect, so he lied along with his friend for avoiding getting arrested, though their lie did not help him that much even though he was not arrested in the end.

While he looks around here and there for his informal investigation, Aaron comes to see that his dark past remains much alive in the town. That dead girl’s father and her cousin recognize Aaron with instant malice and hostility, and they do not have anything good to say about Aaron’s dead friend either. In case of Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly), who was the other girl in the group, she seems to be glad to see Aaron again, but it also looks like she has something she would rather not tell him for now.

Meanwhile, Aaron begins to sense a number of questionable things about the circumstance surrounding his friend’s death. There is a little but suspicious matter involved with shotgun shells supposedly used by his friend for killing himself as well as his two family members, and then Aaron subsequently discovers something which can be a crucial clue pointing at a certain person in the town. Is it possible that his friend and his two family members were actually murdered by someone else? If so, what was the actual motive behind that?

Deftly going back and forth between its two main mysteries, the screenplay by director/co-producer Robert Connolly and his co-writer Harry Cripps, which is based on the novel of the same name by Jane Harper, gradually throws more intrigue and tension into the story, and the movie holds our attention further with its vivid and distinctive local atmosphere, which is conveyed mainly via the calm but ominous shots of wide landscapes dried by many days of drought. As already shown from many other notable films including “Walkabout” (1971) and “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1975), there is always something quite uncanny about the outback region of Australia, and cinematographer Stefan Duscio did a commendable job of capturing that striking quality well on the screen.

What is finally revealed during the last act of the film may not surprise you that much especially if you are an avid reader of mystery novels like me, but the movie keeps engaging us as before, and it is also supported well by the solid performances from its main cast members. Although he has been less prominent during last several years, Eric Bana, who also serves as one of the producers of the movie, is still a good actor as before, and his effective low-key lead performance carries us well from the beginning to the end of the story. In case of the other cast members, Genevieve O’Reilly brings some warmth to her several key scenes with Bana, and Keir O’Donnell is also fine as a local police officer who may not be so good in his job but does care about doing as much as he can about his latest case.

I must confess that I did not expect that much when I watched “The Dry” at last night. I felt rather tired right after watching “The Suicide Squad” (2021), but then I was surprised as finding myself intrigued and invigorated a lot by its mood, storytelling, and performance, and I eventually felt more satisfied with it than “The Suicide Squad”. To be frank with you, I think you will have a more productive time if you watch this modest but competent genre piece instead of “The Suicide Squad”, and I assure you that you will not be disappointed at all.

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