May 18, 2024 5:21 pm

Force of Nature: The Dry 2
Force of Nature: The Dry 2

Force of Nature: The Dry 2

One of the pleasures of being a critic is getting assigned to review a film you might not otherwise have seen. 2021’s “The Dry” was one of those, a taut moody drama/thriller based on Jane Harper’s best-selling novel (the first in a series). It starred Eric Bana as Melbourne cop Aaron Falk who returned to his hometown and is drawn into a world of mysteries and secrets. Unfortunately, “Force of Nature: The Dry 2,” based on the second book in Harper’s “Aaron Falk” series, also directed by Connolly, doesn’t grasp its own complexities and fails to connect with its own story. “The Dry 2” in the title is misleading, as it isn’t a sequel. It’s a stand-alone, with Aaron as the common character. The film is well-made and well-acted, but it merely suggests depth rather than actually having it.

The premise has a lot of potential. Five women go on a corporate retreat where they have to hike through a rainforest in order to build teamwork and be more effective in the workplace (or something like that). Only four women emerge from the rainforest. Everyone has a different story about the disastrous hike, and they are all cagey about what might have happened to their missing co-worker. Melbourne cop Aaron Falk arrives on the scene to investigate with his partner Carmen (Jacqueline McKenzie). Aaron has a connection with the ‘case’ on a couple of levels, one professional and one personal.

The most obvious reference point is another Australian film, Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” where two girls and their teacher disappear during a picnic, leaving no traces behind. Margaret Atwood’s haunting 1989 story “Death by Landscape” tells a similar tale. “Death by landscape” is a good way to describe these narratives, where the surroundings are so evocative, either visually or poetically and symbolically, that they swallow people whole. The landscape in “The Dry” was parched and serene. The landscape in “Force of Nature” is dense, wet, and green. Both landscapes make huge demands on the human beings unfortunate enough to step into them.  Andrew Commis’ cinematography captures therainforest in all its vastness and confusion.

“Force of Nature” features five great female characters, and the cast is excellent. Jill (Deborra-Lee Furness) is the leader, is high-ranked in the company, and is married to the founder. Beth (Sisi Stringer) and Bree (Lucy Ansell) are sisters, and Lauren (Robin McLeavy) is Alice’s sister (if I’m not mistaken. It wasn’t clearly established). Having two sets of sisters working at the same company is a stretch, but never mind. The hot-tempered Alice (Anna Torv) is the flashpoint for the group. Nobody likes her. When the women take a wrong turn and get hopelessly lost, they are so busy blaming one another and fighting over what to do next that they lose precious time. These sequences are gripping, especially because of the “Picnic at Hanging Rock” echo: What happened to Alice? Where did she go?

The women on the retreat would be enough for one movie, but “Force of Nature” piles on more. Aaron and his partner (the insanely under-used Jacqueline McKenzie) have been investigating this company for financial crimes and recruited Alice as an insider informer. Nobody knows she’s been double-dealing, but Aaron suspects foul play. There’s more. When Aaron was a child, his mother disappeared during a family hike in the same rainforest. He’s constantly drifting off into his own personal flashback while poor Alice is still lost out there somewhere! The structure runs on three tracks. We see Aaron and Carmen questioning the four women. We go into flashbacks of the hike itself. We go further back to kid Aaron (Archie Thomson) and his parents (Jeremy Lindsey Taylor, Ash Ricardo) on their hike. (Meanwhile, there was no mention in “The Dry” of Aaron’s mother disappearing, even though this would be a world-shaking character-defining event.)  These timelines keep interrupting each other, making mincemeat of momentum, and, opposite to the film’s intent, distancing emotional involvement.

“The Dry” handled a similar structure beautifully: Aaron is dogged by memories of the past and distracted by present reality. It was a personal journey and an effective murder mystery simultaneously. “Force of Nature” gets a lot of mileage from What happened to Alice? and the actors add to the mystery. Each character has a plausible motive for wanting to get rid of Alice. Whodunit? The suspense could have carried the film through to the end; if only there weren’t all this other stuff dragging it down.

One of the pleasures of being a critic is getting assigned to review a film you might not otherwise have seen. 2021’s “The Dry” was one of those, a taut moody drama/thriller based on Jane Harper’s best-selling novel (the first in a series). It starred Eric Bana as Melbourne cop Aaron Falk who returned to his hometown and is drawn into a world of mysteries and secrets. Unfortunately, “Force of Nature: The Dry 2,” based on the second book in Harper’s “Aaron Falk” series, also directed by Connolly, doesn’t grasp its own complexities and fails to connect with its own story. “The Dry 2” in the title is misleading, as it isn’t a sequel. It’s a stand-alone, with Aaron as the common character. The film is well-made and well-acted, but it merely suggests depth rather than actually having it.The premise has a lot of potential. Five women go on a corporate retreat where they have to hike through a rainforest in order to build teamwork and be more effective in the workplace (or something like that). Only four women emerge from the rainforest. Everyone has a different story about the disastrous hike, and they are all cagey about what might have happened to their missing co-worker. Melbourne cop Aaron Falk arrives on the scene to investigate with his partner Carmen (Jacqueline McKenzie). Aaron has a connection with the ‘case’ on a couple of levels, one professional and one personal.The most obvious reference point is another Australian film, Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” where two girls and their teacher disappear during a picnic, leaving no traces behind. Margaret Atwood’s haunting 1989 story “Death by Landscape” tells a similar tale. “Death by landscape” is a good way to describe these narratives, where the surroundings are so evocative, either visually or poetically and symbolically, that they swallow people whole. The landscape in “The Dry” was parched and serene. The landscape in “Force of Nature” is dense, wet, and green. Both landscapes make huge demands on the human beings unfortunate enough to step into them.  Andrew Commis’ cinematography captures therainforest in all its vastness and confusion.”Force of Nature” features five great female characters, and the cast is excellent. Jill (Deborra-Lee Furness) is the leader, is high-ranked in the company, and is married to the founder. Beth (Sisi Stringer) and Bree (Lucy Ansell) are sisters, and Lauren (Robin McLeavy) is Alice’s sister (if I’m not mistaken. It wasn’t clearly established). Having two sets of sisters working at the same company is a stretch, but never mind. The hot-tempered Alice (Anna Torv) is the flashpoint for the group. Nobody likes her. When the women take a wrong turn and get hopelessly lost, they are so busy blaming one another and fighting over what to do next that they lose precious time. These sequences are gripping, especially because of the “Picnic at Hanging Rock” echo: What happened to Alice? Where did she go?The women on the retreat would be enough for one movie, but “Force of Nature” piles on more. Aaron and his partner (the insanely under-used Jacqueline McKenzie) have been investigating this company for financial crimes and recruited Alice as an insider informer. Nobody knows she’s been double-dealing, but Aaron suspects foul play. There’s more. When Aaron was a child, his mother disappeared during a family hike in the same rainforest. He’s constantly drifting off into his own personal flashback while poor Alice is still lost out there somewhere! The structure runs on three tracks. We see Aaron and Carmen questioning the four women. We go into flashbacks of the hike itself. We go further back to kid Aaron (Archie Thomson) and his parents (Jeremy Lindsey Taylor, Ash Ricardo) on their hike. (Meanwhile, there was no mention in “The Dry” of Aaron’s mother disappearing, even though this would be a world-shaking character-defining event.)  These timelines keep interrupting each other, making mincemeat of momentum, and, opposite to the film’s intent, distancing emotional involvement.”The Dry” handled a similar structure beautifully: Aaron is dogged by memories of the past and distracted by present reality. It was a personal journey and an effective murder mystery simultaneously. “Force of Nature” gets a lot of mileage from What happened to Alice? and the actors add to the mystery. Each character has a plausible motive for wanting to get rid of Alice. Whodunit? The suspense could have carried the film through to the end; if only there weren’t all this other stuff dragging it down. Read More