It’s not often an Australian film makes such a splash both locally and abroad like 2020’s The Dry did. Eric Bana brought a hushed gravitas to his role as federal agent Aaron Falk, a man returning to his drought-ravaged hometown to solve an old friend’s murder. Director Robert Connolly evoked the parched outback so vividly you could nearly taste the dust. A tense, moody thriller, The Dry quenched Aussie cinemagoers’ thirst for homegrown fare.
Now, Connolly and Bana reteam for Force of Nature: The Dry 2, which finds Falk trading the dusty plains for the lush mountain forests of Victoria. When an informant helping Falk expose corporate fraud goes missing on a rain-drenched hiking trip, our laconic hero must uncover whether her disappearance was an accident or foul play.
Connolly splashes plenty of scenic eye candy across the screen, though the sequel’s knotty plot struggles to match its predecessor’s narrative tension. But with Bana’s calmly forceful presence at its center, Force of Nature remains a worthy, if not fully parched, follow-up for fans of brooding Oz noir.
Mystery in the Misty Mountains
Force of Nature finds Detective Aaron Falk pulled from his usual urban beat into the misty mountains of rural Victoria. He’s seeking Alice Russell, a corporate employee who was acting as Falk’s informant to expose possible fraud within her firm. But Alice has vanished on a company hiking retreat, the only one of five women not to stumble out of the rainforest they were navigating for team building.
So who or what made Alice disappear? Falk wades through suspects, motives and lies in search of the truth. Alice’s acerbic attitude earned her no friends among her hiking mates like Lauren, Bree and Beth. Her ice queen boss Jill seems to harbor particular ire after a mysterious dispute on the trail. But with Alice blowing the whistle on dirty dealings, Jill’s smarmy husband Daniel can’t be ruled out either.
The rugged wilderness evokes trauma for Falk too, dredging up memories of his mother’s unsolved disappearance when he was a boy. And the site of Alice’s last sighting has its own grim history with a serial killer rumored to have buried victims in the forest.
Layering the central puzzle are flashbacks depicting tensions rising between the women as the hike becomes increasingly perilous. But the keys to understanding Alice’s fate remain tangled in mist and motive. Through vivid landscapes and stormy characters, Force of Nature brews a moody mystery about secrets, loss and the dangers lurking within both man and nature.
Into the Mist: Landscapes of Peril and Grief
Trading the sunbaked vistas of The Dry for mist-cloaked mountains and rainforests, Force of Nature conjures an atmosphere thick with danger and buried trauma. Where the first film echoed the parched grief of a community devastated by drought, the sequel steeps us in the lush yet ominous beauty of the Victorian wilderness.
Cinematographer Andrew Commis lenses the Otways and Yarra Valley with brooding majesty. Towering cliffs, gnarled trees and fern-fringed waterfalls create a habitat that thrills the eyes yet chills the soul, swallowing Alice without a trace. Against this epic backdrop, the all-female corporate retreat plays out like a survival psychodrama, as rising interpersonal tensions parallel the women’s growing lostness in an indifferent natural world.
And the environment triggers deeper torments for Falk. The detective revisits childhood agony over his mother’s unsolved disappearance near this same primeval forest. Through flashbacks, we learn the landscape casts long shadows over his psyche, stoking obsession over cracked cases and lost loved ones.
Nature may give life, but in Force of Nature, it also distorts human bonds and conceals human cruelty. Like the rain filtering through ancient canopies, the film broods with atmospherics and submerged pain. Just as the mountains hide their dead, the characters wrestle secrets from the past they’d rather keep buried.
A Vision of Beauty and Menace
While Force of Nature may stumble a bit narratively, director Robert Connolly and cinematographer Andrew Commis flood the screen with atmosphere. Together they steeping us in the hypnotic beauty and latent terror of the Victorian wilderness.
Through gloomy establishers of the rainforest canopy, we feel insignificantly small against the ancient forest. The Kangaroo Grass waves like a ghostly shroud over poor Alice’s final campsite. And few will forget the iconic image of her abandoned boot lying orphaned against a mammoth tree root, swallowed by indifferent nature.
Multi-angled tracking shots of the women navigating clifftops convey their fraught bonding exercise, while lightning-branded montages amp tension as both human relationships and the actual weather threaten to rupture. The lodge interiors feel womb-like yet confining, trapping unspoken hostilities.
And always we have Aaron Falk’s brooding countenance to overlay the ominous mood, Bana’s eyes betraying compassion for those lost to the wilds, be they missing persons, clues, or even one’s own peace of mind. Such visual poetry lingers like fog through the forests of Force of Nature.
Strong Ensemble Braves the Storm
While the plot strands of Force of Nature threaten to wash away at times, the cast brings ballast and nuance to their roles. Once again, Eric Bana’s understated gravitas as Aaron Falk provides the film a solid anchor. Given minimal backstory for his fresh trauma, Bana relies on subtle expressions and earthy decency to convey Falk’s drive in solving Alice’s disappearance.
As the abrasive Alice, Anna Torv burns up the screen in her few scenes; she nails Alice’s spiky cynicism while suggesting hidden wells of weariness with her lot as corporate whistleblower. On the opposite end of likability, Deborra-Lee Furness chillily conveys Jill’s egocentric executive arrogance, warring with husband Daniel’s smarmy intensity from Richard Roxburgh.
In more limited but memorable turns, Robin McLeavy projects pathos as the meek Lauren while Lucy Ansell entertains as her outspoken sister Bree. Rounding out the retreat, Sisi Stringer balances toughness and vulnerability as the hiking squad’s defacto leader Beth.
Together these actors brave changeable conditions, from sunny bonding to cyclonic rifts over life-altering days. If the story strains credulity on occasion, the ensemble exerts a compelling force of nature all their own. They make crisis in the wilderness feel as psychologically perilous as the rain-ravaged cliffs and ancient trees looming all around.
A Tangle of Loose Ends
While featuring the same creative team and lead, Force of Nature struggles to weave its many threads into a cohesive storyline equal to The Dry’s lean, elegiac narrative. There are almost too many mysteries at play: Alice’s disappearance, Falk’s mother’s vanishing, the retreat women’s hidden tensions, plus the financial fraud investigation that goes essentially nowhere.
Certain plot angles like the serial killer’s creepy forest den or Falk’s childhood memories fail to inform the central mystery satisfactorily. And the corporate intrigue impetus for Alice turns more opaque, lacking the clear motives provided by The Dry’s drought-stricken town and its buried grudges.
As a result, Force of Nature’s ambitious sprawl cannot deliver the tight plot crashed of its predecessor. Revelations around Alice’s fate and the final fates of other characters inspire more head-scratching than awe at clever misdirection. One almost wishes Connolly pared down the complications to focus solely on the women’s contentious hike through the wilderness.
That said, Connolly fosters a beautifully bleak atmosphere, and his cast churns admirable depth from thinly sketched roles. But by dividing Falk’s attention across too many open cases and tragedies, Force of Nature disperses tension rather than steadily ratcheting the suspense. For all its angry beauty, this is one storm that doesn’t fully cohere by the final fade out.
Drenched Detective Worth Following
Though Force of Nature floods viewers with perhaps a few too many red herrings across its knotty plot landscape, there’s still ample reason for fans of The Dry and Aussie mood mysteries to enlist with Falk’s latest case. Bolstered by world-class cinematography and committed performances, the film conjures an audiovisual Outback noir vibe even in its distinctly non-arid Victorian setting.
One just wishes screenwriter Connolly wrangled the overabundant plot a bit tighter to provide cleverer momentum and an ultimately more satisfying resolution. While Eric Bana keeps us invested with his trademark tacit gravitas as Falk, the emotional stakes feel a bit dampened with less personal connection to this particular vanished woman.
So in the end, Force of Nature makes for a mostly sturdy if not fully compelling sequel. View it more as a brooding atmospheric journey through trauma’s haunted topography than a tightly wound, head-spinning brainteaser. Just beware the patches of muddy dialogue and dangling threads across your hike. And watch your step – not every stone unturned should have been overturned in the first place.
Force of Nature: The Dry 2
With striking visuals but often soggy storytelling, Force of Nature: The Dry 2 doesn't fully live up to its exemplary predecessor. But fans of brooding, character-driven suspense will still find rewards in joining Eric Bana's damp detective hike into secrets old and new.
- Strong visuals and cinematography
- Eric Bana's solid lead performance
- Effective atmosphere and sense of mystery
- Some strong supporting acting
- Overly complex, unsatisfying plot
- Underdeveloped characters and relationships
- Uneven pacing and tone
- Lacks emotional impact compared to first film