de facto film reviews 2.5 stars

The 2021 drama The Dry, adapted from the Jane Harper novel was an enormous hit for its home land of Australia and found a sizable audience here in the states. Featuring a career-best turn from star Eric Bana, the film was an intoxicating mystery thriller that slowly wedged its way inside the viewers psyche. The follow-up, a sequel largely in name and lead character only, does it’s best at capturing a similar sense of brooding tension, but falters with its central mystery.

Courtesy IFC Films

Detective Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) and his partner Carmen (Jacqueline McKenzie) are investigating the shady business practices of an investment firm run by Daniel Bailey (Richard Roxburgh) and his wife Jill (Deborra-Lee Furness). Their informant Alice (Anna Torv), previously caught embezzling money from the firm, has disappeared on a corporate hiking retreat in the vast Giralang Ranges with Jill, and co-workers Lauren (Robin McLeavy), Bree (Lucy Ansell) and Beth (Sisi Stringer). All four women have returned after getting stranded in the wilderness for three days, with Alice supposedly leaving on her own. However, things are not as clear cut as they seem, with Aaron receiving a phone call from Alice before her disappearance claiming “they know”. With a dangerous storm rapidly approaching, Aaron and Carmen have only a short window in hopes of finding Alice alive.

As with the first film, the central mystery has personal ties to Aaron as flashbacks to his childhood show him visiting Giralang Ranges as a teenager with his family around the same time the woods were inhabited by a notorious serial killer. Helmed by returning writer/director Robert Connolly, Force of Nature: The Dry 2 makes for a moderately engaging mystery in its own right, but compared to the storytelling and emotional power of the first film, it severely lacks. Connelly, yet again, excels in languishing in gradually evolving moods and unsettling tones, making splendid use of the paranoia that comes with feeling lost in the wilderness. Cinematographer Andrew Commis (Babyteeth) makes the wet, dreary woods of the Giralang Ranges feel highly evocative. The narrative of Forces of Nature is split largely between three timelines; Aaron attempting to solve the mystery in modern time, the hiking expedition between the five woman, and the occasional flashbacks to Aaron’s past. When focusing on the hiking retreat, there’s a tangible sense of urgency from the women’s needs of survival the rest of the film lacks. This section of the narrative is far more ominous and atmospheric than the rest of the film.

Courtesy IFC Films

While this story is personally connected to our hero, there is a notable lack of depth the first film had in spades. Bana is great, once again, but his portion of the mystery simply doesn’t have the juice of the first film. Not helping matters is the seemingly endless case of red herrings and dead ends that don’t build up to much by the time the limp climax arrives. Anna Torv — excellent in her brief appearance on HBO’s The Last of Us — runs away with the film’s most impactful performance. Her Alice is an intriguing character in how blatantly unlikable she is to her peers. Is it due to her anxiety of being caught as an informant, her history with Jill’s husband or is there something else lurking we don’t know about? Like many mysteries, the journey getting to those answers is far more satisfying than the answers themselves.

The other characters are not given the luxury of Aaron or Alice when it comes to character depth, despite involving performances all around. Whereas the first film has a strong wrap-up to both its mystery and the trauma of Aaron’s childhood secret, Force of Nature tries its best at merging the two, but neither one comes out strongly. The resolution to the disappearance of Alice is fairly anticlimactic and the flashbacks to Aaron’s childhood are met with little more than a shrug. The film also ends with a set up to a potential third film which sounds mildly intriguing, but far more compelling.

Courtesy IFC Films

Force of Nature: The Dry 2 is a sturdy enough continuation in the series following Detective Aaron Falk, with yet another strong performance from Eric Bana. This second film lacks the elegance and storytelling finesse of the first film, but has enough brooding atmosphere to make for a mildly engaging mystery.

Force of Nature: The Dry 2 is now playing in select theaters and is available on VOD.