Starring: Simon Baker, Rob Collins, Natasha Wanganeen, Nicholas Hope and Mark Coe
Distributor: Bonsai Films
Runtime: 108 mins. Reviewed in May 2023
Reviewer: Peter W Sheehan
This Australian mystery thriller tells the story of a detective who arrives in an outback, Australian town to investigate an unsolved murder of an Indigenous woman, killed 20 years previously.
Travis Hurley (Baker) arrives in a desolate, impoverished town in outback Australia to investigate a 20-year-old murder of a local Indigenous girl, Charlotte Hayes. (The film should not be confused with a 2020 movie of the same name that is a British comedy-drama about asylum seekers). This film is distinctively “noir” in character, and the landscape of the Australian outback is remarkably austere and forbidding. Action takes place in a fictional mining community in a small town called Limbo. The film itself was set in and around Cooper Pedy, SA.
Police officer Travis begins his investigation with the goal of finding out whether the murder case should be reopened, but he is forced to confront the injustices of a system that has not served the town, or its community, well. He is also haunted by personal demons of his own making that are resurrected in Limbo when he is forced to revisit his own past. Previously, he was a drug squad officer who became addicted to heroin, and his superiors have given him a job in the middle of nowhere.
In slow-burn thriller mode, the film shows Travis starting to uncover truths that highlight the enduring lack of justice for Indigenous Australians. He interviews members of the family, witnesses, and the brother of the victim, Charlie (Collins), all of whom treat him coldly. Emma (Wanganeen), a little more forthcoming, doubts that reopening of the murder case will amount to anything. It becomes obvious, that the earlier investigation of the crime was indecisive, superficial and rushed. Sen, the film’s director and cinematographer, uses his camera work to show caves in the landscape that become homes and hotels. Sen was responsible for the movie’s writing, music, editing, and co-production. His almost total control is demonstrated by the discipline that his film manifests. The desert environment hides racial trauma in its barren landscape, and empty spaces are filled with foreboding images that camouflage the truth. Human resentment, frustration, and anger linger, and Travis’ emotional problems make it hard for him to solve the case.
This is a well composed film that targets Australian racism. Earlier police investigation blamed any Indigenous man they could find, and a confession from an Indigenous person was all that the police wanted. When that proved unworkable, the murder case was shelved, and a lost girl’s family was left traumatised with no support. The film makes trenchant comment on the racist behaviour of the police, and the film strongly conveys the message that little has changed since. The investigation would have been a lot more thorough, the film implies, if it was a white girl, who was murdered.
This is a tough, highly disciplined film, beautifully photographed but with a grim story to tell. Beneath the grittiness of its plot, there is definite compassion for the wrongs that have occurred in the past. The film specifically targets Indigenous identity, but it also tellingly expresses an uneasy relationship of First Nations People to Australia’s current justice system.
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