THE DRY is an Australian mystery thriller from 2020. It stars Eric Bana (CHOPPER) as Melbourne federal agent Aaron Falk, who gets wrapped up in some off-the-books mystery solving in his home town while on personal leave.
It’s arguably a neo-noir, but not in the sense of shadowy cinematography. It takes place mostly in the daytime, in rural Kiewarra, during a torturous drought. It hasn’t rained in almost a year, so this farming town is full of desperate people. Falk hasn’t been home in years, and only returns due to a brief, stern note in the mail telling him to be at the funeral of his childhood friend Luke (Martin Dingle-Wall, GUN SHY).
From the beginning it’s a bleak and uncomfortable tone. He saw in the newspaper that Luke died in a murder-suicide. Killed his wife, his kid, then himself (abandoning a baby). The funeral is for the whole family but some people are pretty upset about including the guy who killed them. And here’s Falk coming in from out of town just to honor Luke – he never met the wife or kid.
He goes to visit Luke’s parents, Barb (Julia Blake, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK) and Gerry (Bruce Spence, ROAD WARRIOR, BEYOND THUNDERDOME, REVENGE OF THE SITH, THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS), who sent him that letter. Barb is touched that he asks how they’re doing – says nobody else will even look them in the eye. But then she starts going in about how obviously their boy didn’t do it and Falk needs to investigate and prove his innocence. She sounds delusional.
He tries to get out of it. Says he can ask some contacts to look into it but it would be illegal for him to interfere with the investigation. Gerry seems more skeptical about his son being innocent than Barb does, but still guilts Falk into going over the accounting for the family farm in case there’s some murder motive there. So he gives in. And then pretty soon he’s going around asking questions, tagging along with a local cop, word is spreading of his “investigation,” people start getting hostile. And we got ourselves a detective movie.
We quickly learn that there’s way more going on here. Falk has his own reasons to believe Luke was a killer and even better reasons to not want to be in town. He keeps having memories of his teenage years – him, Luke and two girlfriends hanging out at a river that he returns to, now completely dried up. Luke mistreated his girlfriend Ellie (Bebe Bettencourt, SPIDERHEAD), Falk and Ellie had a flirtation, then Ellie mysteriously drowned. Though never charged for it, the family believed Falk was responsible and ran him out of town. They still live there, still recognize him, and repeatedly confront him in the small bar and inn where he’s staying.
Local police sergeant Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell, WEDDING CRASHERS, AMBULANCE) shows Falk the crime scene at Luke’s house. He was the one to find the bodies, and is clearly still traumatized by it. I really like this alternative to the usual hardened crime scene investigators with one guy off to the side puking. Raco tries to be professional about it but is clearly shaken. He has respect for Falk because he’s federal, and from the city, and has made headlines, so Falk is able to give a few supportive words about getting more comfortable with these sorts of things.
Gretchen, the other survivor from their group of friends, is played by Genevieve O’Reilly, who some of us may or may not recognize as Mon Mothma from REVENGE OF THE SITH (scenes deleted), ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, Star Wars: Rebels, Andor, and Ahsoka. I have to admit I was kinda shocked to see what she looks like with long hair, but that’s how it works. Hair can be different lengths. Anyway she’s good here playing a complicated character. She’s the only one accepting of Falk’s presence here (and getting some shit for it), she’s kind of a mix of supportive old friend and flirtatious reconnection, but also this is a double murder mystery so we and Falk frequently have it in the back of our minds that she could be involved in and/or hiding things about either of the deaths.
That’s Falk’s problem too – back then, Luke gave him a fake alibi (claiming they’d been hunting rabbits together), which he now realizes was also a fake alibi for Luke. But he’s not prepared to go blabbing about the lies that got him out of a murder charge, even though he’s innocent. That makes everything even more awkward.
For me the structure worked really well because when the (non-specific spoiler) real killer is revealed it gave me the anti-climactic feeling I get from so many mysteries in the end – okay, that explains it. That’s kind of interesting. Kind of a let down. It was more exciting when we didn’t know the answers. But then I realized that it wasn’t over yet, because there were more questions to answer. We still didn’t know what happened with Ellie all those years ago. So when Falk comes to an understanding about that it really does feel climactic. It’s not just solving the case, it’s solving the biggest problem of his entire adult life.
Director Robert Connolly has been around for a while. He did some movie about young Julian Assange, and a kids movie about competitive paper airplane throwing, starring Sam Worthington as the dad and THE VISIT’s Ed Oxenbould as the kid. Since THE DRY he’s done another family movie called BLUEBACK, where Mia Wasikowska is friends with a large, endangered fish. He shares writing credit for THE DRY with Harry Cripps (the 1997 dog movie PAWS) with “additional writing” by Samantha Strauss (creator of Dance Academy).
Though THE DRY is pretty obscure in the U.S., it was a huge hit in its home country, having the biggest ever debut for an Australian indie there. According to Screen Australia it’s already the 15th highest grossing Australian production of all time. It also so happens that it’s based on a 2016 book by Australian author Jane Harper, who went on to write two other novels about Aaron Falk. So the second one, Force of Nature, has already been filmed as FORCE OF NATURE: THE DRY 2. Connolly and Bana both returning. Release date uncertain due to strike. Some day the stock market scammers running all the studios will realize the jig is up and escape with their hundred million dollar severance packages, leaving the possibility of one or two of them possibly being replaced with some individual interested in actually making motion pictures. And if that day comes before the sun burns us all to ash I look forward to checking out THE DRY 2. Fingers crossed.