by Geoffrey Churchman

The title is a reference to the landscape after 324 days of no rain in the small rural Australian town of Kiewarra (in reality an amalgam of 25 towns including Castlemaine, Warracknabeal and Minyip) where this mystery movie is set. For Waikanae people in a town which for much of the year is on ‘The Wet’ west North Island coast of NZ, it may be the opposite of what we get, but it’s not hard to appreciate the setting and the effect that prolonged drought would have on mental health when livelihoods depend on (mostly wheat growing) agriculture.

The beginning is in big city Melbourne where Australian Federal Police member Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) learns of the death of a chilhood friend and returns to his home town after many years to attend the funeral. It appears his friend is responsible for the murder of his wife and child and then his suicide in a dried-up lake. It’s rather like an episode of the US documentary series Accident, Suicide or Murder which start with an apparent accident or suicide, but closer investigation reveals to be a murder.

Additionally, there is an earlier unresolved homicide that the viewer is presented with: that of a 17-year-old girl and love interest of Aaron Falk which some locals blamed on him, so his father decided it was best for him to go to the big city.

Although Aaron Falk is there on leave, he quickly becomes the local cop’s detective, making his way though the inconsistencies and suspicions that his police experience creates. Not all the locals are pleased to see him for the reason mentioned and he becomes a part of the action.

The Dry is a well-crafted and absorbing crime drama in an uncommon environment with a range of characters that seem to realistically depict what will be found in regional Australian towns, even if some seem larger than life. “I always want the setting to be part of the story, not just a backdrop,” says author Jane Harper whose best-selling novel this is an adaptation of, and the movie-makers have amply done that. It’s not beautiful in the ‘picture postcard’ sense, but the dry bush plus a river have a different type of appeal.

Well worth seeing.

The Dry (117 minutes) is screening at The Shoreline.