High production values and some breathtaking cinematography don’t save this 8-part series from being a dramatic and narrative mess. It’s part police procedural and part ghost story with an overall mood of Tasmanian Gothic, but there are just too many threads and sub-plots and themes.
They should have dropped the supernatural elements altogether and stuck with the murder investigation storylines, I reckon. Heaven knows there’s enough to be going on with without the woo-woo stuff: two cops with a shared past, one of them a single mother with a drinking problem and a troubled teenage daughter, the other a handsome brooding detective who’s fled Tasmania to escape youthful trauma, a body wrapped in barbed wire, a possible link to an earlier murder which traumatized the cop, a corrupt mayoral candidate in cahoots with greedy land developers, two more troubled teenagers in peril, one of whom might even be a killer….
It would still have looked and sounded suitably gothic with that soundtrack of howling winds and portentous music and all those moody shots of scudding clouds and swirling mists encircling the wintry peak of Mt Wellington. As a Tasmanian I must say it was gratifying to see Hobart portrayed thus: stylish modernity sitting comfortably atop an elegant colonial heritage, the restless Derwent River endlessly lapping at the grand pillars of the Tasman Bridge and none of your drab postwar suburbia to be seen.
But the supernatural stuff is an over-egged pudding. The crude fetishes hanging about everywhere borrow from The Blair Witch Project, and the cult bible suggests a Dan Brown-ish exploitation of the villain du jour, Christianity. And what’s that business about the ‘bloodline’ to which Grace (played by NZ actress Rena Owen) keeps referring? It seems to have something to do with the hanged convict girl, a brief sub-plot that only features in one episode. And who are the ghostly hooded figures who keep disappearing whenever someone turns round to look at them? The final episode supposedly explains it all but fails to do so. Are all those people who end up round the fire with broom-straw masks meant to be descendants of the convict girl’s unhanged friend? The ending is so chaotic and confusing I defy anyone to try to summarise it.
Ewen Leslie and Emma Booth are good in the lead roles, but while I loved Aaron Pederson in Jack Irish and the first Mystery Road, he is disappointingly wooden here as the boss of a surprisingly diverse (for Hobart) cop shop. I wouldn’t quibble about that, but I will quibble about this: if spooky Grace is the descendant of wronged Scottish convicts who’ve been maintaining the rage in Van Diemen’s Land since 1851, how does she come by her Maori appearance and Kiwi accent?