When we last left federal agent Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), he was … wait, what was he doing? And while we’re on the subject … wait, Australian movies have sequels?
Force of Nature: The Dry 2 exists not so much to feed our pressing desire to learn about the next chapter in Aaron Falk’s life, but more because of the popularity of Jane Harper’s novel, in which she saw it fit also to make Falk the protagonist. It certainly did not hurt that returning director Robert Connolly’s original film, 2020’s The Dry, was a hit with an international audience, not just the Australian viewers duty bound to claim it as our own.
Rather than leading out of the events of The Dry, Force of Nature is recognisably its forbear’s offspring by virtue of a similar narrative structure. In both films Falk is investigating a present-day mystery while reviewing the events of a past personal strategy that speaks to what’s going on now. In The Dry, the past tragedy was the death of his girlfriend when he was in high school, at which time he was dismissed as a suspect. Here, it’s a hiking trip when he was an even younger boy, when the ease of quickly succumbing to nature’s forces became all too apparent to him.
In present day, Falk is called to the scene of a corporate retreat gone wrong. It’s bush terrain in winter, rugged but lush – and shot in Victoria’s Dandenongs, Otways and Yarra Valley. For one particular company under secret federal investigation, it’s where they’ve chosen to have two teams of backpackers, separated by gender, set off on a walking journey of three nights, where each night they will navigate to a camp site that has all they need to eat and sleep. In the meantime, they won’t have their phones and will have only maps and compasses to figure out how to get where they’re going.
Falk and his partner Carmen (Jacqueline McKenzie) are called to the scene because they have an informant in the midst of this retreat, a high up in the company called Alice (Anna Torv), who has been flipped against her employers after agents have discovered she stole $100,000 from the company. Alice is reluctantly collecting information with which to bring the company down, a USB drive in her possession being a key piece of the case. But she’s gone missing after things went off script for the women on the second day, as poor navigation and internal strife prevented them from reaching the second campsite. The rest of her group are now back safe at a nearby lodge, shaken and in some cases spider bitten, and we’re about to find out what happened in those three harrowing days and where Alice might currently be.
The film also stars Deborra-Lee Furness, fresh off the headlines of her split with Hugh Jackman, and Richard Roxburgh. They play the husband and wife team who run the company, each of whom has a beef with Alice, with he emerging as a particularly toxic presence in terms of how he treats his employees. Then again, Alice has a beef with just about everybody, as she herself has been called a bully and has a personal history with another member of her team, Lauren (Robin McLeavy).
For running two hours, Force of Nature: The Dry 2 feels pretty tight in its narrative pleasures. Connolly’s adaptation of Harper’s book sets up a good structure for revealing its secrets, really existing in three time periods that move forward chronologically: the events of the ill-fated retreat, the investigation of Alice’s disappearance in the immediate aftermath, and what happened to Falk and his family when Aaron was just a boy. Only this last part comes up a bit short in its dramatic stakes, though Connolly does everything he can by keeping alive the spectre of a past serial killer, who lurked and committed his killings in these mountains, and whose victims have not all yet been discovered even decades later.
As he was in the first film, Bana is a solid anchor to these proceedings. The soft-spoken intensity he has always demonstrated suits these Dry films very well, and he has only honed it further as he’s gotten deeper into his fifties. Torv presents an essentially opposite energy, butting heads with anyone and everyone, and giving anyone and everyone a plausible reason to knock her off – that being one of the possible explanations for what happened to Alice. However, Torv is not content giving us only a single note and making us feel like she sort of deserves both to be missing, and whatever may have happened to her. She’s a single mother looking after a troubled teenager, and does seem to regret her outbursts – while also of course fearing discovery of being a mole in her own company.
Speaking of opposites, someone with a sense of humour might have called this film The Dry 2: The Wet. Having Aaron Falk kick around in another town stricken by drought certainly would have been an on-the-nose way to handle this sort of sequel, but Connolly et al get great mileage from a very different setting, captured beautifully by DP Andrew Commis. Throw in an engaging mystery and you’ve got everything you need for an enjoyable bit of cinematic escapism – and yes, a sequel to an Australian movie. Harper does have one more novel featuring Aaron Falk, so don’t be surprised to see Generally Pleasant Weather: The Dry 3 hitting cinemas around 2027.
Force of Nature: The Dry 2 is currently playing in cinemas.