Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? The fun lies in guessing who has blood on their hands. The Dry is a layered thriller that keeps its cards close to its chest before arriving at a well-earned climax. It’s also the perfect mix of an effective setting and a character-driven narrative.
The Australian film opens with aerial views of sprawling farmland, before zooming in on a house, and then a close-up of a mother lying in the hallway with blood-splattered walls. Meanwhile, her baby wails. The rest of the film is as engrossing as this first scene, a clever whodunit set in a town filled with secrets and pent-up rage.
Directed by Robert Connolly, and based on Jane Harper’s novel, The Dry follows federal agent Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), who returns to his hometown following the tragedy depicted in the opening. He was friends with the husband Luke (Martin Dingle Wall), but he’s asked to investigate the murder just in case Luke actually didn’t actually kill his family.
What follows is a deft story with intriguing rabbit holes. There is the murder that Aaron investigates, but he’s also haunted by his past, specifically the drowning of his friend, Ellie (BeBe Bettencourt). The film brilliantly weaves together this old wound with the present murder and gives them equal weight. In that regard, unpacking Aaron’s past and what transpired at the river becomes as gripping as his investigation into Luke.
While it’s true that Bana carries much of the film and does an excellent job, the rest of the cast serves the story quite well. Bana has electric on-screen chemistry with Genevieve O’Reilly, who plays Gretchen, one of Aaron’s childhood friends who was also close with Ellie. In fact, I wish that the two had more scenes together. Their relationship is a solid representation of clinging to the past and pining for what could have been if the stars just aligned.
The town, which has suffered a drought for more than a year, is on the cusp of erupting in anger. It’s far more than a backdrop to murder. The wide shots of brittle farmland and gnarled trees are haunting. You can hear the dry grass crackle under a character’s footsteps. In Aaron’s case, there’s some truth to the old motto you can’t go home again. Decades later, people suspect he had something to do with Ellie’s death. Matt Nable plays an understated but potent antagonist of sorts, the blue-collar and chiseled Grant Dow, who gets into fights with the locals at dingy bars and wants Aaron run out of town asap. Every character has a role to play, and the setting suits the story perfectly.
The Dry builds to a grisly conclusion, and its two primary mysteries keep you guessing until the very end. This is a deeply engaging thriller, to the point that the nearly two-hour runtime evaporates before you know it. Connolly’s film is nuanced, with near-perfect pacing, slowly revealing all the secrets that exist beneath the dusty small town. The whodunit intrigue reaches a satisfying conclusion, a fitting ending to a well-spun story.
9 OUT OF 10