‘Mystery Road’ is being sold as a thriller, but don’t go expecting a bang-bang blockbuster. Its thrills are more of the slow-burn, icy chill variety. Australian director Ivan Sen was originally known for his arthouse films, and it shows: ‘Mystery Road’ impresses chiefly as a deft hybrid, lovingly conjuring up echoes of other films only to leave them sizzling and ready to combust in the hot outback sun.
The setup is pure ‘Twin Peaks’: eccentric, driven Sydney detective Jay (Aaron Pedersen) is called back to his rural hometown to investigate the murder of a young girl. He follows the breadcrumb trail to an out-of-the-way highway – the Mystery Road of the title – frequented mainly by truckers soliciting prostitutes. Jay’s own estranged family may also hold the key.
Social comment forms the bruised centre of Sen's web of intrigue. The indigenous population is being exploited and neglected by the country’s ruling classes. Opportunities are few, crime is a temptation. But the film botches the landing, its dread-filled buildup wheezing out like air from an untied balloon as the climactic gunfight falls flat. Alternately beguiling and frustrating, this uneven effort finally wilts in the broiling Queensland heat.