The Dry gets its name from the setting – a fictional Australian town called Kiewarra, where it hasn't rained in nearly a year. Everyone lives with the awareness that they'd probably all perish if a fire broke out. The stakes are high just from having the movie take place in such a location. They get higher once the plot kicks in. Tension rises, suspense builds, and the film casts its spell over us. Based on Jane Harper's novel, this is a riveting thriller that works as both a murder mystery and as a character study.
Eric Bana plays Aaron Falk, a federal agent who returns home to Kiewarra for the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke, who seemingly committed a murder-suicide, slaying his wife and son before shooting himself. Very few people are glad to see him. It's obvious that he has some kind of troubled past here. Luke's parents don't believe their son was capable of the actions he's been accused of, so they ask him to poke around a little bit. Aaron reluctantly agrees, teaming up with the local police sergeant, Greg Raco (Keir O'Donnell), to do some digging.
The mystery half of The Dry is a gripping procedural, showing how Aaron and Greg discover that a lot of people in Kiewarra have a lot to hide. Because it's a small town, everybody knows everybody else, leading to folks keeping each other's secrets or working to protect their friends. Director Robert Connelly stages events so that we're continually kept off-guard. We think Luke's situation is exactly what it appears to be, then doubt it, then believe it again, etc. New pieces of information are doled out at just the right times to keep you perpetually guessing.
Here's the hook, though: When they were teenagers, there was some question as to whether Luke killed a girl named Ellie (BeBe Bettencourt). As it tells the present day story, The Dry also repeatedly flashes back to show what happened in the past. Young Aaron (Joe Klocek) establishes a flirtation with Ellie, who also has something going with Luke. After her body is found drowned in a local creek, everyone suspects Luke, while simultaneously believing Aaron has lied to give him an alibi. Investigating one death leads Aaron to relive this painful incident from his adolescence.
The dual-story approach infuses The Dry with great suspense. If Luke killed Ellie, then he most likely killed his family, too. If he didn't kill her, then someone else got away with murder. This leads directly to the character study element – the thing that really makes the film special. Aaron is visibly tormented by his memories. We, meanwhile, don't quite know what to think of him. Could he possibly know something about Ellie's death? Given that so many townspeople hate him, a distinct possibility exists that he is not the noble figure his job suggests him to be.
Eric Bana is outstanding in the lead role. The actor nicely underplays emotions, allowing us to see what Aaron is feeling through his eyes. You can't look away from him because you're always trying to determine how he's reacting to each new revelation. Walking that tightrope where we like Aaron without entirely trusting him is a difficult task, one that Bana proves more than up to.
In the final minutes, both mysteries are solved in a satisfying, authentic fashion. The Dry isn't one of those films that strains to find a credible resolution. That, along with all its other positive qualities, makes this a mystery that will fully absorb and haunt you.
out of four
The Dry is rated R for violence and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.