October 31, 2013
What’s it all about?
When a young aboriginal girl is found dead in a drainage pipe by a trucker, rumours start flying around town as to the cause. Indigenous detective Jay Swan investigates the case with a fierce resolve but his road to find the truth is blocked by racism, the local cops and unhelpful speculation.
Ivan Sen creates a brooding Australian Western concerned with racism, the butchery of the indigenous population and the widespread issues that drug production has on a community. It’s a stark backdrop with prostitution and alcoholism rife amongst the women in the aptly named Massacre Creek pointing to both a devastating history and a troubling future.
Throughout, references to the horror genre are made with a Friday 13th hockey goalie mask hiding one protagonist’s identity, and a stop at the Dusk till Dawn Motel bringing dry wit. But these tropes are also a reminder that there’s no such thing as the bogeyman to place the blame on when it comes to the evils man inflicts on man.
The desolate, dusty surroundings of the Australian outback bring a disturbing sense of isolation and fear which dominates detective Swan’s every move as he continually puts himself in danger in a bid to solve his investigation, and Sen shrewdly ekes out suspense not revealing anything too soon. The use of the vast landscape as an oppressive presence adds a chilling edge to the film, with every image stunningly captured.
Swan also faces a personal cost whilst solving the case as his daughter inhabits this town full of dirty cops and residents looking the other way, lacing the story with the frustration and anger of the poverty stricken and forgotten. Aaron Pederson is excellent as an understated lone wolf hero, but the real pleasure comes from Sen’s tight script which approaches his themes with smarts and style.
Mystery Road identifies the current climate regarding race relations in Australia and the worrying increase in disappearances of aboriginal women in a sophisticated and compelling way, making this a rich and rewarding cinematic experience.