FORCE OF NATURE: THE DRY 2 reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Robert Connelly
Stars: Eric Bana, Anna Torv, Deborah Lee Furness, Robin McLeavy, Jacqueline McKenzie, Richard Roxburgh, Lucy Ansell, Sisi Stringer, Tony Briggs, Kenneth Radley, Archie Thompson.
This sequel to 2020’s mystery outback noir The Dry has been adapted from Jane Harper’s novel Force Of Nature, the second book in the series featuring federal agent Aaron Falk, but it is less compelling and engaging than its predecessor.
Five women, on a corporate hiking retreat and character-building bonding exercise arranged by Bailey Tenants, the Melbourne based company they work for, head off into a forest on a two-day hike. The women include team leader Jill (Deborah Lee Furness, from Shame, etc), Lauren (Robin McLeavy, from tv series Hell On Wheels, etc), Alice Russell (Anna Torv, from The Last Of Us, etc), and siblings Bree and Beth McKenzie (Lucy Ansell and Sisi Stringer). Without mobile phones they soon become lost and begin bickering. During the hike Alice disappears. The other four women emerge from the forest shaken and upset.
A search operation is mounted but with a storm fast approaching time is running out to locate Alice. Also arriving at the corporate retreat are Federal police detectives Aaron Falk (Eric Bana, reprising his role from The Dry) and his partner Carmen Cooper (Jacqueline McKenzie, from Ruby’s Choice, etc). Falk had been pressuring Alice to turn whistle blower and uncover evidence of the company’s shady dealings that may be linked to white collar crimes like money laundering and other criminal activities. Alice had stolen money from the firm, which made her especially vulnerable to pressure from Falk. The local police and search teams are resentful of the presence of the two Federal agents whose investigation seems at odds with the search party.
Bailey Tenants is run by CEO Daniel Bailey (Richard Roxburgh, from tv series Rake, etc) and his wife Jill, who had led the women on the hike. The foreboding forest location also holds personal resonance for Falk. He recalls traumatic memories about the time his mother had disappeared while he walked the same trails with his family a couple of decades earlier. And overshadowing this location is the spectre of a notorious serial killer from the past whose cabin lies somewhere in the woods.
Also returning for this sequel is writer/director Robert Connelly, who has adapted the script from Harper’s novel. His assured direction keeps things moving but the pacing is a little uneven. The film is more like an Agatha Christie mystery this time, with a slew of suspects who may have been responsible for the disappearance of Alice. Connelly’s script taps into some of the usual conventions of the mystery genre with a couple of red herrings, some misdirection and subplots.
However, none of the female characters here are particularly likeable. And even Falk, the protagonist of The Dry, is less likeable this time around. Bana’s usually strong and charismatic screen presence is somewhat muted here and it seems as if he is not really engaged with the character; instead he seems to be merely going through the motions. Furness delivers a strong performance, while Roxburgh imbues his character with a slick and somewhat sleazy quality. Torv is also strong as the aggressive, abrasive and unpopular Alice whose prickly demeanour may have pushed her fellow hikers over the edge.
The story unfolds in three distinct time frames – there is the drama surrounding the search for the missing Alice while Falk interrogates the four survivors to learn what happened during the hike; several lengthy flashbacks depict the hike itself and the growing tensions between the five women; and flashbacks reveal Falk’s own past experience of hiking the trails with his family, which ended in tragedy and continue to haunt him.
Force Of Nature has been shot on location in the Otways and the Dandenong Ranges, which double for the fictional Giralong Ranges. The picturesque but remote and atmospheric settings add to the drama and suffuse it with a strong sense of menace. The wet rainforest setting here offers a marked contrast to the harsh rural setting of The Dry, where the action occurred in a small town that had been ravaged by droughts and bushfires. The widescreen cinematography from Andrew Commis (High Ground, etc) is superb, giving us a strong sense of place, highlighting the majestic power of nature and how man is dwarfed by his environment. The shoot itself and the remote locations would have provided many difficulties for Connelly, the crew and the cast.
While The Dry was a huge box office hit, Force Of Nature: The Dry 2 may struggle to connect as strongly with local audiences. Despite the quality of its creative team and its strong starry cast, Force Of Nature: The Dry 2 ultimately is formulaic and, as with most sequels, doesn’t generate the same level of suspense and mystery as The Dry.