Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) survived his trip to his drought-stricken hometown in the very successful “The Dry”, directed by Rober Connolly and adapted from Jane Harper’s bestselling book of the same name. Moving to book two in the series, still with Connolly at the helm, Falk is back doing his Federal detective work with partner Carmen Cooper (Jacqueline McKenzie) and relying on a frosty and reluctant informant, Alice (Anna Torv), to close their case.
But Alice participates in a company hiking retreat and does not come out the other side.
Where is the evidence? What happened between the five women on the hike? What connection does Falk have to the location? What kind of insurance does the hiking company have for situations like this? All very important questions that are (mostly) unravelled over the course of the movie (we don’t go into the insurance as much, but you do wonder).
What “The Dry” did so successfully was evoke a sense of place and community. This film’s place is the opposite of drought-stricken – green, thick, wet, haunting, and according to the cast, full of leeches – but is similarly successful in quickly establishing the dangers of the beautiful location, and the dangers of the dynamics between the five women on the hike. This includes boss Jill (Deborah-Lee Furness), sisters Beth (Sisi Stringer) and Bree (Lucy Ansell) and mousy Lauren (Robin McLeavy). All have a conflict-ridden relationship with Alice, and all seem to be hiding something.
Layered around this is Falk’s memory of his own disastrous hiking trip with his parents when he was a teenager, underscoring the empathy Falk feels for Alice being lost and alone out there, and increasing the tension about who else might be around.
The production and performances are high quality, with Bana, Torv, Furness and Stringer particularly making a mark, and all the other performances, such as McKenzie’s, making you wish they had more screen time. Torv as Alice is a standout as she walks a tightrope, giving depth, pathos and magnetism to a character that is inherently unlikeable.
On the other side, in book to screen adaptations, there are always changes to be made, but some general hints have been used to fill up backstory where specificity may have been useful. What exactly happened between the women in the past and why exactly the company was so bad may have increased the stakes. Falk’s backstory also takes a different route, and is not as successful in connecting with the main mystery as the first film was able to do. Ultimately, he has less of a personal connection to the mystery. This is Falk in work mode, even with his past hike hanging over him. So, it doesn’t have quite the same emotional impact, which is true of the book as well.
It’s wonderful to see an Australian film made with such care, expertise and beauty, and this is a very worthwhile watch on cinema screens. While the mystery does land differently to the first film, it is a gripping experience that will make you second guess going on company hiking retreats. Here’s hoping we get the third and final Falk story on screen as well.