2024 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Two “Force of Nature: The Dry 2”

Back in 2021, THE DRY emerged as a big hit in Australia and managed some play in the United States as something of a festival darling. It played within the framework of what dark secrets a small town may hold amid a long drought that left the surroundings a tinderbox ready to turn into a raging inferno at the slightest spark. Yes, you can cut the metaphor with a knife. With their being two mysteries intertwined, one in the present and one in the past, and the main character, Federal Agent Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), was the prime suspect in the latter. It was a slow burn of a mystery with a strong sense of place and a fine lead performance by Eric Bana.

THE DRY made a bunch of money and was well reviewed, so a sequel was in the cards. Which brings us to FORCE OF NATURE: THE DRY 2. Yes, that title is unwieldy. It’s probably preferable to the obvious joke title of THE WET though. One of the things that the film does smartly is keep a well developed sense of place, in this case the Giralang Ranges, a deeply forested and potentially dangerous wilderness where you can get lost and never be found. And where a hermit serial killer once lived and hunted his prey.

Five women from a shady corporation under investigation went on a teambuilding hike together and only four returned from the wilderness. The one that didn’t return, Alice Russell played by Anna Torv, is also gathering information on the shady dealings of the corporation under pressure from Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper (Jacqueline McKenzie) who want to find Alice and her flash drive full of evidence. And maybe assuage some guilt for pushing too hard.

Based on the sequel novel Force of Nature by Jane Harper many trappings of the first film are maintained. A memory of another missing woman, Aaron Falk’s mother, is interwoven with the present mystery. And, of course, the setting, far from the resources and law and order of a major modern city also plays a role. Rescuing women and what nature brings out without the trappings of civilization around are of vital importance here.

Unfortunately, the film lacks the snap of its predecessor. Aaron Falk is motivated to find Alice, but in general the film has all the sense of danger of a cozy English mystery. There are various interviews that fill in the story and are conveniently interrupted. There’s no RASHOMON style question about the accuracy of anything and the urgency to get to what really happened seems lacking at times. The procedural elements arent particularly interesting. Plus, there’s never any real threat of violence against our protagonist. The crimes he’s investigating are nebulous. And the relationship between past and present is tenuous, especially as it’s not clear that foul play is involved in either.

There is a clear irony in the “trust building” retreat maybe leading to murder and certainly to a further fracturing of trust. But, it feels like we’re mostly on the outside looking in as it’s clear that Alice is the most interesting character, beset by forces from all sides, and we only get to know her in bits and pieces.

Which is too bad because Torv, playing a somewhat unlikeable but sympathetic character, and Bana are both putting in fine performances. Combined with a strong sense of place, FORCE OF NATURE: THE DRY 2 has many fine qualities. It’s just a bit underbaked as a mystery.

FORCE OF NATURE: THE DRY 2 plays twice more at the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival, once on April 14, 2024 at 6:00 PM at the Times Cinema and once on April 20, 2024 at 5:00 PM at the Times Cinema.

The 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 11, 2024 until April 25, 2024. Tickets can be purchased via MKEFILM.ORG.