An arresting setting, funereal tone and solid performances don’t wholly atone for a script that’s thin on frights or suspense in the Aussie thriller “Sweet River.”
It’s about lost children and adults who die supernatural deaths when they try to move on from that trauma.
The setting is the cane country of Queensland, Austrailia — Tweed Valley. The forlorn town of Billins was where a serial killer once roamed. Children disappeared, and the rippling effects of their loss hang over the place to this day.
That’s where Hanna (English born Aussie actress Lisa Kay) has come to get out of her head, listen to her meditation tapes and maybe dry out. She’s rented a manager’s cottage on the edge of the cane fields, one cane field in particular.
What she doesn’t know as she listens to “the currents can sweet you away in life” and other taped platitudes about grief and despair, is that the bloke (Jeremy Waters) who rented it to her has gotten drunk at the local watering hole and come to an untimely end on his way home.
The police are saying he drowned, when we’ve seen the wreck, heard the noises and seen the man yanked away into the trackless cane fields. The police didn’t hear him threaten to “finally harvest that field” in the seedy Billins Hotel bar. The police aren’t interested in doing the math.
Drowning. “That’s what’s going on my report and that’s where we’re leaving it.”
The property owner (Martin Sacks) makes good on her rental, but he and his paranoid wife (Geneviève Lemon) are suspicious of Hanna’s motives for coming here. The ugly history of the place has to be a draw. And as she asks about why everyone around here keeps red lights on their porches, even covering their flashlights, and other questions about the disappearances and then later deaths that followed the supposed conclusion of “the case,” it comes out.
She lost a child. She can’t rest until she’s found his body and buried him. All these hallucinations she’s having, seeing children in the cane, and all those later mysterious deaths have something to do with that vast field outside her window.
It’s all terribly promising, a woman convincingly gutted by grief, looking for answers so fervently she starts seeing things, discovering the end result of such torment in Elenor (Lemon), the wife of the understanding but leery John (Sacks).
People see a child in the road in dark, fear they’ve hit it or swerve to avoid it, and bad things happen. They’ve been happening for years.
Director Justin McMillan doesn’t over-explain who all the players are in this puzzle, but we can pick up on the disparate threads — flashbacks showing the killer’s connection to the community, assorted children, some more logical a part of the plot than others.
A little confusion isn’t a bad thing, but there’s more than enough to weaken the impact of the attempted frights here. This unsuspenseful blend of “Lovely Bones” mystery and “Children of the Corn (Cane)” sucks you into its gloom, but fails to deliver shock, awe or closure.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Lisa Kay, Eddie Baroo, Martin Sacks, Geneviève Lemon, Chris Haywood
Credits: Directed by Justin McMillan, script by Eddie Baroo, Marc Furmie. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:41