Film Reviews

Force of Nature: The Dry 2

Published February 9, 2024
Aaron & Carmen wonder what's so dry about this movie

 “Rarely, rarely comest thou, Spirit of Delight!” wrote Shelley, in a remarkable premonition of the Australian film industry. “Wherefore hast thou left me now, Many a day and night?”

Australian cinema has reached such an impasse that I go along to each new feature hoping for something worthy and tradesmanlike. Occasionally there appears a film of real quality, but those surprises are few and far between. For me, the most recent movie that raised itself above the bar of mediocrity, was Ivan Sen’s Limbo (2023), which featured an almost unrecognisable Simon Baker as a depressed copper trying to solve a cold case in a small, Outback community.

Limbo had more going for it than Robert Connolly’s Force of Nature: The Dry 2, which is set in a dense forest that’s not at all dry. The title ties the film to Connolly’s The Dry (2020), likewise based on a novel by Jane Harper, featuring the same troubled detective, Aaron Falk, played by the same Eric Bana. As there’s at least one more Aaron Falk novel left unfilmed, we can expect The Dry 3 to come long at some stage – so long as people keep watching.

The Dry, set in a dismal country hamlet that felt like it failed the audition for Wake in Fright, was a local box office hit. It featured AFP detective Aaron Falk returning to his hometown to investigate the mysterious death of an old friend. In the process he pulls a few skeletons out of his own closet.

Even the most casual consumer of crime fiction will recognise the character of the lone-wolf policeman still dealing with some distant, private trauma. Or in extreme cases, such as Ian Rankin’s John Rebus, multiple traumas. The most original aspect of The Dry may have been its sweeping shots of the hot, thirsty Australian landscape.

In Force of Nature, Falk is back, burdened by another private trauma. I’m not able to say whether this new version of his childhood cancels out the previous version, but at least it’s suitably traumatic. It may be that Falk can only apply himself to cases where there is some terrible childhood memory involved. Dr. Freud would have been fascinated.

This time the landscape shots are of lush, green forest and mountain vistas, chiefly the Otways, the Dandenongs and the Yarra Valley. Once again, the scenery threatens to be more engaging than any of the characters.

The story revolves around five women who have been sent on a bush walk as a corporate bonding exercise. One of them disappears into the forest, setting off an extensive search and rescue operation. It’s slghtly fishy that the missing woman, Alice (Anna Torv), was working as a double agent for Falk and his partner, Carmen (Jacqueline McKenzie), who are investigating the big finance organisation that sent her on this trek.

The whiff of foul play brings Falk and Carmen to the forest, where their presence alerts the company CEO, Daniel Bailey (Richard Roxburgh), that they’re on his trail. Being a throughly villainous type, he sneers at them and provides a brief lecture on how the world works. His wife, Jill (Deborra-Lee Furness), is one of the party that got lost in the forest. She’s also a tough cookie, but more willing to talk. As are the three other members of the group: middle-aged Lauren (Robin McLeavey), and the youthful sisters, Beth and Bree (Sisi Stringer and Lucy Ansell).

The film proceeds by flashbacks, as we explore each woman’s recollections of the journey. They have their secrets, but as there is universal agreement that Anna was a complete pain in the neck, any of them might have been happy to push her off a cliff. To add an extra dash of creepiness, they seem to have sought shelter in a hut once used by a notorious serial killer.

While these stories unfold, Falk is grappling with his own flashbacks to the time he went hiking in this forest with his parents, at the age of about twelve. When his mother goes missing, Aaron and his dad spend anxious hours thrashing their way through the undergrowth, calling her name. Falk looks stressed and uptight, as he is compelled to perpetually relive this episode. We know, however, that he’ll eventually get a grip on himself and crack the case.

Eric Bana does his best to make Falk interesting, but he is unlikely to be a contender for this year’s AFP Mr. Personality Award. Even more forgettable is Jacqui McKenzie’s Carmen, who is under-utilised in this story. As for Richard Roxburgh, he’s hard to believe in the role of a wealthy corporate shark. Perhaps he should have studied a few Bond villains, as a touch of camp would have gone a long way in this earnest production.

I wouldn’t say Force of Nature is a bad film, but it’s outstandingly average. Connolly is proficient enough at telling a story and creating characters, but neither the personalities nor the plot create more than a modicum of curiosity. We’re told, early on, that the forest “is a good place to take people out of their comfort zones,” but there’s no point in this plodding bushland mystery where the viewer need ever feel discomfited.



Force of Nature: The Dry 2

Directed by Robert Connolly

Written by Robert Connolly & Jane Harper

Starring: Eric Bana, Anna Torv, Jacqueline McKenzie, Sisi Stringer, Lucy Anselll, Deborra-Lee Furness, Robin McLeavy, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Tony Briggs, Kenneth Radley

USA, M, 120 mins



Published in the Australian Financial Review, 10 February, 2024