Force of Nature: The Dry 2 (2024)

Force of Nature: The Dry 2 Review

Force of Nature: The Dry 2

Being a critic means getting to review films that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. One such film from 2021 was “The Dry,” a tight, moody drama/thriller based on Jane Harper’s bestselling novel (the first in a series). It starred Eric Bana as Melbourne cop Aaron Falk who returns to his hometown and gets entangled in mysteries and secrets. Unfortunately, so-called “Force of Nature: The Dry 2,” based on the second book in Harper’s “Aaron Falk” series and also directed by Connolly, fails to grasp its own complexities or connect with its own story. The misleading “Dry 2” in the title suggests a sequel, but this is actually a stand-alone, with Aaron as the common character. Well-made and well-acted, the film merely suggests depth rather than actually having it.

The premise has excellent potential. Five women go on a corporate retreat where they are supposed to hike through a rainforest as a team-building exercise or something like that. Only four women come out of the rainforest. Each has a different story about what went wrong during this disastrous hike. And each is cagey about what might have happened to their missing co-worker Melbourne cop Aaron Falk shows up on the scene to investigate with his partner Carmen (Jacqueline McKenzie). On two levels — one professional and one personal Aaron has a connection to the ‘case.’

Another Australian film comes immediately to mind: Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” where two girls and their teacher disappear during an outing and leave no trace behind them; Margaret Atwood’s haunting 1989 story “Death by Landscape” tells another version of this tale. Death by landscape is what these narratives could be called, where the atmosphere is so evocative, either visually or poetically/metaphorically/allegorically, that it swallows people whole. The landscape in “The Dry” was parched and peaceful; the landscape in “Force of Nature” is dense, wet and green. Both of these are demanding environments for the unfortunate humans who tread into them. Andrew Commis’ cinematography captures the rainforest in all its vastness and tangledness.

There are five great female characters in “Force of Nature,” and the cast is excellent. Jill (Deborra-Lee Furness) is the leader, high-ranked at the company, married to the founder. Beth (Sisi Stringer) and Bree (Lucy Ansell) are sisters; Lauren (Robin McLeavy) is Alice’s sister (if I’m not mistaken it wasn’t clearly established). It’s a bit much having two sets of sisters working at this same place, but never mind. The hotheaded Alice (Anna Torv) is the group’s flashpoint. Nobody likes her. When they take a wrong turn and become disastrously lost, blaming each other and fighting over what to do next which wastes precious time this gets extremely tense, especially because of that “Picnic at Hanging Rock” echo: What happened to Alice? Where did she go?

One movie is sufficient for the women on the retreat but “Force of Nature” just keeps adding on. Aaron and his partner (the criminally under-used Jacqueline McKenzie) have been investigating this company for financial crimes and they’ve brought Alice in as an inside informant. No one knows she’s two-timing them, but Aaron smells a rat. Also: when Aaron was a kid, his mother went missing during a family hike in this very same rainforest. He’s constantly zoning out into his own private flashback while poor Alice is still lost out there somewhere! The structure operates on three tracks. We see Aaron and Carmen interrogating the four women. We flash back to the hike itself. We flash further back to kid Aaron (Archie Thomson) and his parents (Jeremy Lindsey Taylor, Ash Ricardo) on their hike. (Also also: in “The Dry,” nobody said anything about Aaron’s mother going missing, even though that would have been kind of a major character-defining event.)  These timelines keep cutting into each other’s suspense-meat, wreaking havoc with momentum and sorry, intended effect emotional involvement.

“The Dry” did a similar structure beautifully: Aaron is haunted by the past; overwhelmed by present reality. It worked as a personal journey and a gripping murder mystery at once. “Force of Nature” gets good mileage out of What happened to Alice? and the actors are intriguingly inconsistent about tipping their hands re Whodunit? Every character has ample reason to want Alice dead I mean, gone from their lives for good; vanished without trace; etcetera so … who did it? That suspense alone could’ve carried this thing clear through to the end; if only there weren’t all these other scenes dragging it down at every turn along its course away from start to finish until credits should roll were it not for word count run-on sentences doo-dah day.

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