The latest Australian psychological thriller, Sweet River has been released on streaming platform Netflix and like most recent flicks from Down Under it comes with some heavy-laden drama that grinds you down to a gritty conclusion.
The setting for this tale of grief, loss and the search for truth is definitely its selling point, cast in Northern New South Wales between Byron Bay and Tweed Heads where the land is rich in sugar cane fields. The cinematography by Tim Tregoning is stunning and elevates the landscape beyond the screen that is simply captivating and bolden’s Director Justin McMillan’s vision to the fore. Especially the use of red light cast across the river banks that highlight the need to see and not awaken anything submerged in the shadowy depths.
Here the saccharine land has been slowly rotting away with the local community who harbour a secret. This makes our protagonist Hanna’s (Lisa Kay – Indian Summers) quest all the more troubling, as every move she makes to determine what happened to her son is quashed.
Leading the supporting cast is a stoic performance from an almost unrecognisable Martin Sacks (Wentworth, Blue Heelers) as John, who balances a fine line between help and hindrance to Hanna’s pursuit. And Genevieve Lemon as an equally tortured soul.
There are many elements that are at play here that warrant a far superior film than is ultimately delivered. The mystery and intrigue that surrounds the stunning scenery serves a great juxtaposition with a harrowing journey for the audience to travel down, but this also serves as its downfall, as often we are reduced to the murky depths of an at times stagnant quagmire of a narrative.
The problem is that the standards have been set high in recent years in Australia, with Hounds of Love, Rabbit, and Killing Ground that we’ve come to expect a more hardened journey that stimulates whilst also being smart and intriguing.
Even though it’s a different medium Vicki Madden’s The Kettering Incident and The Gloaming have also set the precedence in this field, which admittedly she has more time to untangle the mystery in her tv show screenplays.
As such, Sweet River leaves the audience wading through thick undergrowth which can be difficult viewing. Despite the struggle, there are moments where the story flows and the scenery swallows you into its serenity.
- Saul Muerte