The Dry is a slow burn, meticulously crafted murder mystery set in the scorched landscape of a remote Australian town. Eric Bana delivers a brilliantly nuanced performance as a federal agent tormented by grief and suspicion. Adapted from the bestselling novel by Jane Harper, The Dry explores two devastating crimes separated by twenty years. Everyone is a suspect as dark secrets are laid bare in a harsh and unforgiving environment.
A horrifying murder-suicide shocks the small rural town of Kiewarra. Luke Hadler (Martin Dingle Wall) shoots his wife and school-age son before taking his own life in a dusty riverbed. He spares his infant daughter. Luke’s childhood best friend, Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), a minor celebrity investigator in Melbourne, returns home after a long absence. The locals are not happy to see him. He reconnects with Luke’s old girlfriend, Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly), as they try to come to terms with the tragedy. Luke’s parents refuse to believe he was capable of such a crime. They beg Aaron to review the case headed by a kind, but novice policeman (Keir O’Donnell).
Aaron’s homecoming forces him to remember another awful event in his youth. The film flashes back to Aaron as a teenager (Joe Klocek). While Luke and Gretchen were a couple, he was enamored with the beautiful Ellie Deacon (BeBe Bettencourt). The group swam and drank together in the desolate woods. As Aaron and Ellie’s romance bloomed, he invited her on a river date. She never showed up, and was later found drowned. In the present, Aaron confronts deep-seated distrust as the killings reveal multiple sinister motives.
The Dry is an old-fashioned whodunnit with deliberative pacing. There are no gotcha moments or simplistic reveals. The tension simmers to a boil as the plot runs effectively through two timelines. We see how Ellie’s murder has eaten away at Aaron’s soul. He buried his feelings and memories of her, but must now face his past to solve the current puzzle. Eric Bana portrays Aaron with measured restraint. You can see the hurt in his eyes, but the character refuses to succumb to his own feelings. There’s too much at stake for him to fall apart. Bana’s subtle responses convey a torrent of exposition. He’s tremendous here, a reminder of his significant talent and screen presence as a lead actor.
The cinematography and editing are instrumental in selling the miserable, drought-stricken setting. Every scene is a brownish yellow with intense overhead light. You can almost feel the oppressive heat and lack of moisture. Director/co-screenwriter Robert Connolly (Deep State, The Turning) focuses on barren farmland, dust devils wisping over cracked earth, and the smoke from distant fires lingering on the horizon. These scenes juxtapose the imagery of the teens swimming and kissing in literally fluid times. Ellie’s death is a harbinger of the destitution to come.
The Dry does not disappoint in the final act. The intricate narrative never cuts corners. I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing and attention to details. The Dry requires patience, but follows the breadcrumbs to a satisfying and dramatic conclusion. The Dry is a production of Made Up Stories, Screen Australia, and Film Victoria. It will be released theatrically and on demand May 21st from IFC Films.
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