‘Force of Nature’ Sees Bad Weather and Worse Intentions Lead to Mystery

Imagine being devious enough to lie to sweet, sweet Eric Bana.
Force Of Nature

One of the many issues with Hollywood today is the preference by studios to focus the bulk of their efforts on hopeful blockbusters with bloated budgets. The big movies aren’t themselves the problem, but instead it’s the lack of resources leftover to go towards low to mid-range films. There’s a lot to be said on the subject, but we’ll save that for another time and instead get to the point — today’s low/mid-budget thrillers come almost exclusively from outside of Hollywood. And often, if not typically, they’re from outside the U.S. all together. 2021’s The Dry fit the bill exactly as a smart, atmospheric slice of Australian noir delivering a compelling and affecting mystery, and the film found a deserved success with both audiences and critics. Happily for those of us who love this kind of thing, Force of Nature (unofficially subtitled The Dry 2) once again brings some intelligently thrilling goods from down under.

Five women, all coworkers, head out on a rural hike as part of a corporate retreat, but only four of them return. Alice (Anna Torv) has gone missing, and the other women are less than forthcoming when it comes to the days and hours leading up to Alice’s disappearance. Each has her own secrets and her own lies, and with the clock ticking and rough weather heading their way, the chances of finding the missing woman quickly plummet. Local police and search parties are on the hunt, but only Federal police officer Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) has another reason for finding her alive — she’s his informant, he was pressing her hard for evidence against her bosses, and he’s still haunted by his own mother’s disappearance in these woods when he was just a child. Oh, and there’s also a serial killer’s cabin nearby?

Force of Nature, once again based on a novel by Jane Harper, is a follow-up to The Dry, but you’d be hard-pressed to call it a direct sequel. It’s instead more in line with other mystery franchises like Rian Johnson’s Knives Out films or Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie features. Falk is the only returning character, and there are no connections to the past story, but we do get thematic throughlines with a lead protagonist whose present day conflicts seem to always dovetail with tragedies and traumas from his past. The conceit works beautifully in The Dry, also directed by Robert Connelly, and while it doesn’t come together nearly as well here, there’s still plenty to enjoy as the mystery unfolds with Bana’s haunted investigator peeling back the layers.

As with those aforementioned mysteries, Falk is the centerpiece of an ensemble, and while the entire cast does good work here, it’s Bana who holds our attention and interest the strongest. The actor is probably best known for playing tough guys (Chopper, 2000; Black Hawk Down, 2001; Troy, 2004), but he’s quite good at playing more soulful, emotionally fraught characters too. Like The Dry, this film cuts away from the present to offer glimpses into Falk’s past as a way of explaining the compassionate and troubled man he is today. Past pains become visible on Bana’s face while loss, guilt, and grief puddle in his eyes. His emotions become are own, and that goes a long way towards our own need for a happy resolution to the case at hand.

The script, written by Connelly, weaves Falk’s story into the nesting doll mystery before him, and each new reveal answers a question while leaving Falk and viewers with still more. Force of Nature does a good job with its four characters who exit the woods as each offers differing details, and when pressed or challenged, each reveals new truths. They breath lies like oxygen, lies to each other and often themselves, lies that stem from personal needs and grievances, lies that may or may not be connected to Alice’s disappearance. It’s constructed well, and all five women (including Deborra-Lee Furness, Robin McLeavy, Sisi Stringer, and Lucy Ansell) give strong performances, but neither of the intertwined threads manages to be more than just compelling enough.

Of the two, it’s the flashbacks that land the weakest as Falk’s childhood brush with disappearance and death lacks an emotional grip. The drama of the situation is evident — his mother goes missing while out hiking with young Aaron and his father — but it just can’t find a truly dramatic or suspenseful footing all the way through to its underwhelming resolution. The present day mystery fares better, to the point that you wish the film had focused on it exclusively, as the individual deceptions find intrigue and drama. Falk’s guilt over possibly having pushed Alice too far and too close to danger becomes the beating heart here, and it affords the film its only real emotional weight.

Where The Dry drops viewers into a bright and dusty outback, Force of Nature finds its story within the lush greens of a dense forest, and it’s a landscape frequently drenched in rain. It’s a one-eighty on the environmental front, but cinematographer Andrew Commis (who also shot Connelly’s 2022 drama, Blueback, which also stars Bana) ensures that we feel the treacherous dampness all around. The surroundings look as enticing as they do threatening, and that’s no small feat. Here’s hoping Connelly and Bana reunite once more to adapt Harper’s third and reportedly final Aaron Falk novel, Exiles, as it will be a nice change of pace to see Falk solving a mystery in the pleasantly aromatic surroundings of Australia’s wine country.

Fans of The Dry should definitely give Force of Nature a watch. The narratives may not land as powerfully this time around, but Bana’s strong but broken investigator remains a compelling moral compass in a world fueled by deceit and deception.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.