Film Review of The Dry by Jane Harper, 2020

The Dry is a 2020 film adaptation of the Mystery Crime Thriller debut novel by Jane Harper published in 2016.

Investigator Aaron Falk played by Eric Bana gets a note. It says, “Luke lied. You lied. You need to be here for the funeral.” The “funeral” is for Falk’s teenage friend, Luke Hadler, his wife Karen and son Billy who have died in an apparent murder-suicide.  Falk is reluctant to return to his hometown due to allegations in the drowning death years ago of his teenage friend Ellie Deacon played by BeBe Bettencourt. Flashbacks show a teenage Falk hanging with his three friends, Luke, Ellie, and Gretchen. Needless to say, the welcome mat is not rolled out for Aaron Falk.

The bodies of the Hadler family are found by Sergeant Greg Raco played by Keir O’Donnell. Falk senses that Raco is a newbie “first responder,” and takes him under his wing. Luke’s parents, Gerry and Barb Hadler, played by Bruce Spence and Julia Blake, ask Falk for help. They believe their son did not kill his family. They also believe Aaron is a good man. Gerry and Barb have theories about the wheat crop failing and problems with people borrowing money. Falk goes to Karen Hadler’s workplace and chats with principal Scott Whitlam played by John Polson. He tells Falk that Karen was vaguely upset about her husband Luke and worried about money.  Witlam says, “I wasn’t listening. I missed the signs” implying there must have been a suicide.

The setting is introduced early: “Kiewarra, Regional Australia, 324 Days Since Rain” and the waterlessness drips in and out of every scene. Falk steps on the grit below his boots, crackling and crunching through a bone-dry watering hole where he and his teenage friends once splashed. The wind blows swirling dust devils across the parched land. The car radio blares news of “a bushfire.” Falk takes a shower with a trickle of water sprinkling his face. Livelihoods are all but non-existent in the dog biscuit-tinged farmland that puts just about everyone in a foul mood.

Grant Dow, played by Matthew Nable, is the resident nasty guy who happens to be Ellie Deacon’s cousin and lives with Ellie’s dad, Mal Deacon played by William Zappa. Falk finds Ellie’s library book with a receipt inside. Scribbled on the back is “Grant.” Falk and Raco go see Grant who proceeds to call them “pigs.” Later, he gets in a bloody fight with farmer Jamie Sullivan played by James Frecheville and principal Scott Whitlam, who says about the fight, “wrong place, wrong time.” Yes, these people are really in foul moods.

Do you think the people of Kiewarra really know each other? Secrets and lies are tangled up with alibis in a recurring theme of “shooting rabbits.” Luke and Aaron have an alibi the afternoon that Ellie drowns. They were “shooting rabbits.” The day that Luke was found dead, Jamie Sullivan says that he and Luke were “shooting rabbits.” When questioned about his “ammo,” Jamie says, “my bunnies, my bullets.“ He goes on to tell Falk and Raco that Luke said “bloody women,” insinuating that it could have been Karen that killed herself and her family. When Falk visits Gretchen, one of his four close teenage friends played by Genevieve O’Reilly, she’s…you guessed it, “shooting rabbits.” Falk says, “But alibis. Put them under enough pressure and they just crumble real fast.”

Falk meets Gretchen for a drink. He asks her if Luke was ever violent with her and she says, “no.” He then asks what she thinks happened to Ellie and Luke? Gretchen thinks Ellie “killed herself” and “Luke snapped.” She knew that Ellie hated her dad. “Everyone still looks away. We’re very good at it,” she says. Later, she shows Falk her scrapbook with a picture of Luke holding her young son, Lachie along with a baby bracelet taped to the page. She insists that Luke is not Lachie’s father and says, “why would I lie?” Falk says, “because Luke asked you to. Luke asks everyone to lie.” Gretchen gets mad and tells Falk to leave.

A weary Falk tries to hold it together as the townspeople straight out accuse him of Ellie’s death. Flyers with Falk’s picture and “KILLER” are posted on the buildings around the tiny town. A furious Mal Deacon, Ellie’s father, says to Falk, “what your son did to my daughter!” Showing signs of dementia, he believes Falk is actually Falk’s father. There is also a grotesque vandalism that occurs to Falk’s car; a repeat of what happened to Falk’s father’s car years ago before the two of them left Kiewarra.

Spoiler:  If you like a sense of place and you are curious about what goes on in a small town, you will really like this film. Could “shooting rabbits” be a metaphor for the death of innocence? The plot of The Dry keeps you guessing about what happened to the Hadler family and Ellie Deacon. Ultimately, it is a persistent investigator and his kindly cohort local sergeant searching for the truth. A character threatens to set themselves on fire wiping out the entire town rather than tell the truth. And truth may be hiding in a place where secrets sometimes live.  Falk finds Ellie Deacon’s old backpack at the river and inside is her personal journal. Need I say more?

Quotes:  Gerry Hadler, Luke’s father describes the introduction of technology and GPS to the quiet landscape, “Farms with no people. Imagine that.” The killer admits, “I never meant to hurt the boy (Billy, Luke’s son).” Gretchen tells Aaron Falk, “I could have stopped her. He was with me that day so I lied too.” “When you’ve been lying about something for so long, it becomes second nature,” says farmer Jamie Sullivan.

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