Review: Limbo


Limbo – a fictional town in the hot, arid Australian Outback.
Limbo – a place of indeterminate location, whose inhabitants are neither in heaven nor hell.
Limbo – a film by aboriginal director/writer Ivan Sen, which explores a forgotten murder case that took place 20 years before.

There are many definitions of Limbo. None of them are pleasant. Director/writer Ivan Sen (“Goldstone”) has given us a film about quiet desperation played out over 20 years in a hellscape no person would want to live in.

As King Faisal says in the 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia,” “No man loves the desert.” Yet, like individuals committed for an indeterminate sentence, the people of Limbo move, almost in slow motion, through an imitation of life in their man-despoiled desert.

Into this virtual stasis comes Detective Travis Hurley (Simon Baker – “Blaze”), looking for evidence that might allow him to re-open the case of an aboriginal girl, Charlotte Hayes, who disappeared 20 years before and is presumed dead. She and her family lived in Limbo, and the family remains.

Hurley first goes to Charlie (Rob Collins – “Extraction”), Charlotte’s brother. Charlie ekes out a living, as do the other white and aboriginal residents of Limbo (the real town is called Goober Pedy, and is known as the “opal capital of the world” because of the large deposits of low quality opals mined there – mostly by individual diggers). When Hurley arrives at his trailer, Charlie emerges, bear-like, from a “dugout,” a man-made cave where the opals are mined and where some residents live to escape the scorching sun and high temperatures.

Charlie is none too happy to see Hurley and refuses to talk to him. The same is true of Charlie’s sister, Emma (Natasha Wanganeen), who works as a waitress in the town’s cafe.

Hurley also visits Joseph (Nicholas Hope – “Jade of Death”), brother of Leon. Leon had been suspected of the murder, and was interviewed at the time, but not arrested. Hurley discovers that Leon died a year ago, and Joseph, who lives in one of these “dugouts,” is an old dried up man of no help.

So begins this study in futility. The acting is interesting: the characters act as you would expect real people to behave. Nothing showy or theatrical. Slow, eratic, and with many conversations yielding nothing, or so it appears. This is far from your typical procedural or even from the classic noir, where the antihero has a cynical patter, the dames are deadly, and the crime is exotic. In fact, the portrayals and the action (or lack of it) is so stoical that many will find the film boring and without point. Yet, like the quiet conversations, there is something there.

We see the weight of racial prejudice which has demeaned the aboriginals and diminished their prospects for stable lives. We see how the resentment over not receiving justice for the loss of a family member has added to the bitterness of these people. And we see – we can almost taste – the guilt born by men who carry their crimes with them every day of their lives.

The choice of black and white photography for the film make for an even more stark, more despairing feeling. There is no salvation here.

Runtime: One hour, 48 minutes
Availability: New York and Los Angeles, March 22, 2024

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