Ivan Sen’s new Australian film Mystery Road, his fourth feature as a director, is as simple as movies come. It’s set in a small outback town and is structured around basic, overdone character stereotypes who provide just as many thrills as a bad episode of Blue Healers.
Aaron Pedersen plays Jay Swan, a detective who swaggers from house to house interrogating the locals and bribing them for information that could lead him to the killer of a young girl whose body has been found under an open stretch of highway. He’s recently returned to the small town after a stint in the big smoke.
When Swan learns his daughter could be involved with a bunch of girls who are prostituting themselves to truck drivers in exchange for drugs, he begins to take the case personally, despite his less than enthusiastic colleagues at the local police station. They’re also a little racist.
Swan’s sometimes silly investigation – in one scene he hides behind a half dead frangipani branch while spying on a drug lab – is so lacklustre and slow paced that by the time it comes to Mystery Road’s final act, you realise there’s very little mystery to the story at all.
“With his script Sen has made Pedersen’s detective so dull and lack so much emotion that I found myself caring less about his role.”
With his script Sen has made Pedersen’s detective so dull and lack so much emotion that I found myself caring less about his role as the story developed. During one scene Swan comes across a young girl’s dead body which he just stands and stares at. There’s no swift response to see if she still has a pulse, something you think would be an immediate response from someone with even the most basic of first aid training.
Mystery Road does succeed with Sen’s stunning, sweeping cinematography though. Every single shot from start to finish is framed so beautifully and with such precision that it’s further proof Australia produces some of the world’s finest cinematographers.
It’s a pity Sen didn’t pay as much attention to some of the film’s pivotal scenes that should have had the audience on the edge of their seats rather than trying to muffle their giggles. During a poorly choreographed shootout I was waiting for the Benny Hill Show theme song to start playing.
All the basic fundamentals are here but when you think back on great mystery films made throughout the years it’s usually the surprise ending you remember the most: The shocking twist that connects together the puzzle pieces laden throughout to build intensity, curiosity and most of all, audience attentiveness. None of these are found in Mystery Road.
Mystery Road 2.5/5
Directed by: Ivan Sen
Starring: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Tasma Walton
Review by: Matthew Eeles