MIFF Review: Dry Winter

Life in a regional or rural township isn’t the idyllic existence that some consider it to be – for those born and raised in such a place, it means dead-end jobs, a limited social life, and little in the way of recreation. It’s a feeling that’s replicated in this picture, to the point where the protagonists’ boredom is mirrored by the audience.

Kelly (Courtney Kelly) is a petrol station attendant in a remote South Australian town, sharing a house with Jake (Andrew Phillips) who’s employed as a farmhand. When not working, the pair will hang-out with Jake’s mate Liam (Michael Harpas), head to the pub, play video-games, or watch cars racing at the local dirt track – or more accurately, what passes for racing.

Yes, there’s not really much excitement to be found in Dry Winter, which has only the barest semblance of a plot and, rather than instituting some form of conflict, spends most of its time watching the protagonists do mundane activities like hanging out their laundry. The closest the film comes to entertaining the viewer is, strangely, when it shows Jake playing Pac-Man on a cheap VR headset.

This shortage of thrills is compounded by the absence of dialogue. The characters rarely ever speak to each other, and when they do, their speech is near inaudible and contributes little to the development of either themselves or the story. The film’s clearly adhering to the “Show, Don’t Tell” principle, yet in doing so, serves as a reminder as to why the spoken word is sometimes necessary in a motion picture.

If there is praise that can be offered to Dry Winter, it’s that the picture functions adequately as a demo reel for Gere Fuss, who’s credited as cinematographer. Fuss’ shots of the arid Australian landscapes and skies at twilight are quite beautiful, while also deserving commendation for his use of natural lighting. But even with his efforts, there’s no escaping the tedium.

The main problem with this film is a simple one: it’s not engaging. Too much time is spent observing the protagonists go about their routines, and too little establishing conflict, which it does poorly – it’s not until the third act that Kelly’s disaffection for her hometown is made clear, with none of the prior scenes acknowledging or even hinting at such a revelation.  

Despite housing an interesting premise and impressive cinematography, Dry Winter is one of the least compelling films to emerge from Australia in recent times. It’s a film that, ironically, is so adept at reflecting the mundanity of rural life that it becomes boring itself, a problem which could have been sold with more dialogue. Or a better screenplay.



Dry Winter is currently streaming on MIFF Play until August 22nd.

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