TIFF 2013 Review: Mystery Road
Mystery Road begins with a truck driver discovering the dead body of a young Aboriginal girl right by a sign that displays: Massacre Creek. While the dry, unflattering desert of Queensland, Australia doesn’t ask for it, a tickle of gallows humour wiggles in our throat. But that’s not the tone writer, director, editor, cinematographer, and composer (!) Ivan Sen is after. Mystery Road is a lot more of a dark, unsavory crime story from the Outback, where most of the citizens are associated with, or tempted by lawlessness.
Sen confidently employs a gripping sombre tone, and tequila-covered visuals that characterize the flat and featureless land. The film’s limitation, alas, is that it’s too predictable in plotting and character behaviour. The story is about a cruel act, but the narrative is too clean and contrived. You don’t get the sense this mystery has thrown our character’s physical and moral self down a trench of barbed wire.
Perhaps that’s because Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen, very good here) is too far above the law, too Gary Cooper-like with his convictions, to be scathed. He comes home to solve this murder, and fortunately (but, for us, unfortunately) Sen’s plot easily accommodates him.
Mystery Road does not have a whodunit’s slippery uncertainty; instead, we follow Jay as he grills locals and fellow detectives (one played by Hugo Weaving), and gathers intel quite effortlessly. It’s still tense, but the sharp turns are foreseeable – minus the final showdown, which makes great suspense out of the long-range accuracy of rifles. Despite that destructible finale, Mystery Road lacks full-bodied devastation. Call it “Cormac McCarthy-lite”.