Whilst much can be said about how so much of The Dry‘s success was in large part to it opening at a time when cinemas were still battling the pandemic-stricken productions that were halted, it can’t be denied that Robert Connolly‘s tight thriller was a fine genre film in its own right. The fact that it has spawned such a healthily budgeted sequel in Force of Nature: The Dry 2, one that is earning a wide release and proving Australian-made productions can battle it out with international fare, could be considered enough of a novelty to throw support behind it. Thankfully, on its own accord it’s a satisfactory murder mystery – even if it doesn’t match its predecessor’s knack for fine execution.
Returning to the fray is Eric Bana‘s detective Aaron Falk, who trades in the desolate outback of the first film for the dark moisture of the rainforest here (yes, there’s a plethora of jokes that can be said about calling the film “The Wet”, or some variation of such) when an informant he’s relying on to help crack a major case involving money laundering goes missing in said rainforest setting. Though filmed at the Otways and the Yarra Valley in Victoria, it’s the fictional Giralang mountain ranges that set the scene, an area that Falk has something of a personal connection to. And having a traumatic childhood experience tethered to this region only strengthens his determination to solve the disappearance of said informant, Alice (Anna Torv).
Alice isn’t exactly a willing participant in being a whistleblower for the very company she works for, but under some serious coercion, Falk and his partner, Carmen (Jacqueline McKenzie), have convinced her to play along, and it’s on a corporate retreat through the rainforest that she has been separated from her party after what appears to be a questionable situation overseen by her ice-queen boss, Jill (Deborra-Lee Furness). Jill and her smarmy husband (Richard Roxburgh) are the prime suspects, and if Alice’s disappearance is linked to any type of business play, then Falk may think he has the case solved. But if it was a personal attack, then co-workers Lauren (Robin McLeavy), Beth (Sisi Stringer) and Bree (Lucy Ansell) are viable potentials, and given that Alice was already wholly disliked before they trekked into the wilderness, a murder most foul is not ruled out.
Much like Connolly’s original film, Force of Nature operates with several narratives throughout. But unlike that film where the flashbacks to Falk’s potentially incriminating past aided the murder mystery at its core, the flashbacks here to an even younger Falk and the search for his missing mother feel more like plot padding; it links to the in-film lore surrounding a serial killer who allegedly stalked the very setting the corporate retreat is being held at, but it never earns the pay off it promises. Side stories like these leave Force of Nature asking more questions than it answers, but it mostly finds its way through the central whodunnit surrounding Alice’s disappearance, and with so many characters seemingly harbouring motives, it makes for an interesting set of turns throughout.
Alice’s abrasive nature means the story almost has an air of “Who didn’t kill her?” mentality about it, and Torv’s commanding performance proves a nice contrast to the calming nature adhered to by Bana. He may not have as much to chew on as Falk compared to the original, but he centres the film in a manner that helps offset its suggestively sinister tone. The locations have a threatening manner to them that Connolly takes advantage of, and whilst the film is never as visually grim as its subject matter, it tonally commits to the misery.
A damp, dark temperament, the menacing landscapes, and performances that take advantage of their respective actor’s charm (Bana), charisma (Stringer) and vigour (Torv), Force of Nature, on its own accord, is a serviceable thriller that mostly pulls off what it sets out to do. Comparing it to the original unfortunately highlights its flaws, but that certainly doesn’t equate to this sequel being a bedewed experience.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Force of Nature: The Dry 2 is now screening in Australian theatres.