A decent mystery premise turns out to be a slog in The Dry sequel

Eric Bana is back as Detective Aaron Falk in Force of Nature, sequel to 2021 hit The Dry. Watching Bana work his way through the suspects feels like we’re going through the motions, writes Travis Johnson.

Having smashed domestic box office records with their adaptation of Jane Harper’s outback noir novel The Dry in 2021, star Eric Bana and director Robert Connolly (also the sole credited screenwriter this time around) return, perhaps inevitably, for another investigation by Australian Federal Police Detective Aaron Falk. Based on the second novel in the series, Force of Nature swaps out the sunburnt aridity of the original’s remote rural setting for the rain-drenched, forested highlands of the Giralang mountains, where a woman has gone missing on a corporate hiking retreat.

That woman, Alice (Anna Torv) is in the process of blowing the whistle on her dodgy boss, Daniel Bailey (Richard Roxburgh), for our intrepid investigator, which means she’s already on Falk’s radar when she vanishes. And given that everyone else on the hike seems to have some kind of plausible motive for murder, and the odds of surviving in the bush drop precipitously by the hour (if she isn’t already dead), the clock is ticking.

Which sounds like a decent enough premise for a solid mystery—Murder on the Orienteering Express, perhaps—but much like a forced march through the mountains, Force of Nature is a slog. There’s little sense of tension, or stakes, or even malice—bad guy Bailey’s financial crimes are nebulous enough to have no real narrative weight. And yes, while his wife, trek leader Jill (Deborra-Lee Furness) might have decided to terminally reduce their problems by one when the opportunity presented itself, and other characters, including put-upon Lauren (Robin McLeavy) and sisters Beth and Bree (Sisi Stringer and Lucy Ansell), might have cause for carnage, watching Bana’s Falk work his way through the suspects feels like we’re going through the motions.

Force of Nature does try to innovate when it comes to structure, jumping between three periods: the investigation, the fateful trek itself, and an earlier time in the same area where a young Falk dealt with the loss of his mother—a faint, unsatisfying echo of The Dry’s own time-jumping. It fails to enhance either Falk’s character or the story’s themes, and the attempt to give Falk a personal stake in this less personal case feels ham-fisted.

Worse, the trek flashbacks are used to dole out crucial information seemingly without Falk, our point of view character, learning it. At times it felt like Bana’s stoic ‘tec was watching the movie with us and uncovering the clues as we do, via cinematographer Andrew Commis’s camera (which does a sterling job of capturing the mountains in all their gloomy glory, it must be said). There’s little sense of discovery, and so none of the requisite plot twists land with any force. A typically magnetic performance by Bana can’t make up for that, nor can the presence of an underutilised Jacqueline McKenzie as Falk’s partner/handy sounding board, Detective Carmen Cooper, who seems to exist so we don’t have to resort to voice over narration.

On release, The Dry struck a chord because it felt like more than the sum of its parts; it’s built on a sturdy and arguably overly familiar murder mystery chassis, but it’s crafted with such care and attention that it stood out from the pack. By contrast, Force of Nature feels like less—just another case from the files of Detective Aaron Falk. It’s like an unremarkable mid-run episode of a television drama that’s starting to hit its creative limits—maybe enjoyable enough, but nothing unmissable. It’s a frustrating film rather than a terrible one but, given what we’ve seen from the same talent roster before, that frustration is sharp.