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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Luke Buckmaster

Force of Nature: The Dry 2 review – Eric Bana returns as Aaron Falk in solid thriller

Jaqueline McKenzie and Eric Bana in Force of Nature: The Dry 2
Jacqueline McKenzie and Eric Bana in Force of Nature: The Dry 2. Photograph: Narelle Portanier

The first and perhaps most obvious point to make about Robert Connolly’s sequel to his popular and finely made mystery-thriller The Dry is that it’s not dry at all – it’s very, very wet. The director, again adapting a bestselling novel by Jane Harper, opens with shots of lush wilderness – the film is largely based in the Victorian mountain ranges – and rain-covered leaves.

The first time we see Eric Bana, back again as federal police agent Aaron Falk, he’s doing laps in a swimming pool. His fellow agent, Carmen Cooper (Jacqueline McKenzie), is anxious to solve their latest case – a missing person’s investigation – as flooding might soon hit the region. It is police informant Alice (The Newsreader’s Anna Torv), who is alone, lost and in deep trouble, particularly when the storm hits.

This film drips with pot boiler-ish twists and turns, and is saturated with genre machinations – engaged, like many mystery scripts, in surprising and one-upping the viewer. But developments in the last act especially – and there are no spoilers here – contain some tough pills to swallow, including a resolution to a key plot thread that made me think: “Well, that was rather easy.”

Nevertheless, there’s quite a bit to appreciate in Force of Nature: The Dry 2, including an elevated tone, strong performances and handsome photography of Victorian landscapes, having been filmed in locations including the Yarra Valley, Otways and Dandenong Ranges.

Part of the mystery involves determining just what kind of mystery we’re watching. We know it involves a hiking trip gone horribly wrong, everybody returning except for Alice. The expedition was a team-building exercise organised by Bailey Tenants, a corporation headed by CEO Daniel Bailey, played by Richard Roxburgh. (Not dissimilar here, in his slickness and slipperiness, to his performance in Prosper.)

Here’s where things get a bit tangled: Falk and Cooper have been investigating Bailey, and Alice is their whistleblowing informant. Her disappearance may be related to this – or maybe it has something to do with her being an unpleasant person to work with, which is painfully obvious to the rest of her hiking team: Lauren (Robin McLeavy), Bree (Lucy Ansell), Beth (Sisi Stringer) and Daniel’s wife, Jill (Deborra-Lee Furness).

From left: Deborra-Lee Furness, Robin McLeavy, Sisi Stringer, Lucy Ansell and Anna Torv.
From left: Deborra-Lee Furness, Robin McLeavy, Sisi Stringer, Lucy Ansell and Anna Torv in Force of Nature: The Dry 2. Photograph: Narelle Portanier

Falk is, naturally, a bit suss on the whole situation, sniffing around for information about anything potentially sinister and soon ascertaining that Alice, Daniel and Jill had an argument. “After that everything changed,” says one character, in a line that feels befitting of – or even engineered for – the trailer. As does a similar, subsequent line commenting on how one small decision “can change everything”. It’s moments like these, accompanied by an aggressively used score, where Force of Nature feels like it is nudging towards heavy-headedness.

What does feel totally germane to this world is Bana’s carefully withdrawn performance as Falk, again featuring lots of sombre expressions. The rest of the cast are solid too, including a tetchy and bullish Torv, capturing a different and more varied shade of whistleblower than the usual morally driven informant.

Like in the first, non-wet The Dry, Connolly jumps back in time, deploying with co-editors Alexandre de Franceschi and Maria Papoutsis a more circular rhythm this time around. One key strand teases out what happened on the hike, the past bleeding into the present, while another – visually differentiated by a grainy-looking filter – returns to Falk’s youth. His history was a big part of The Dry, his investigations into the death of an old friend from his home town drawing to the surface terrible memories and dormant emotions around the unsolved death of a teenage girlfriend.

Both films double down on the “This Time It’s Personal” trope, which, second time around, feels a tad forced. Does every case this guy works on involve skeletons in his closet? Fidelity to the source material comes into play, of course, complicated by differences between mediums: what feels totally ordinary on page can come across as something else on screen. Harper has written a third and final book in the series, which I hope Connolly will also adapt into a film – with Force of Nature, he has done a decent job in keeping us engaged in Falk’s world.

  • Force of Nature: The Dry 2 is in Australian cinemas from Thursday

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