Film and Book Reviews

Secrets, prejudices simmer in moody mystery

FilmMystery Road reviewed

By Wendy Knowlton


As the camera skims the water at the start of the new series of Mystery Road, there is an immediate sense of menace. Below the surface is a body and beneath the facade of Gideon – “the Pearl of the North” – lies a tangle of secrets and horrors. Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) has been pursuing a drug syndicate throughout the long stretches of Australia’s north-west, and suspecting a connection, he arrives in the night, belligerent and taciturn, isolated even in the midst of others.

Swan is difficult to know. Having retreated behind a barrier of terse questions, he rarely answers any directed his way. Ex-wife Mary (Tasma Walton) views his intrusion into her new life with suspicion. She’s finally happy, and his presence threatens to leech this away. He’s a man who seems incapable of joy. He wants to be a father to his teenage daughter, but can’t seem to sustain the effort required to earn that right. His job has taken him deep into the dark depths of humanity, and he can’t seem to find his way back. “Where are you from, Detective Jay?” a local asks, and Swan stares blankly for a long moment before the bleak response, “I’m not from here.” Or anywhere, it seems.

Dialogue takes a back seat to atmospheric landscape, and bursts of violence. Monstrous road trains hurtle through the darkness, red taillights gleaming like malevolent eyes. It feels as though something is lurking beyond every spill of lamp or torchlight. Even in daytime, scenic vistas are juxtaposed with desolate stretches that manage to feel vast and empty one minute and claustrophobic the next. Tracks are hemmed in by scrub and suffocated by dust, and cramped interiors seem built to conceal secrets.

Intersecting storylines throw up more than one mystery. Whilst an archaeologist digs up Indigenous history and participants in a sit-down vigil simmer with rage over what they see as the pillaging of their past and the betrayal of some of their own, faded photographs of missing girls on the police notice board suggest if they’re black, no one’s trying too hard to find them.

Moody and tense, Mystery Road promises compelling viewing over the weeks ahead. Issues of belonging, family and the prejudices of Australia’s past and present will be explored as the rough denizens of this environment deny the dictates of law and respond savagely to any challenge to their “rights”.