New Stan drama Scrublands opens with a bang, literally, when a country priest shockingly opens fire on his own congregation outside his church.
Five parishioners are chillingly shot in cold blood with precision aim.
Welcome to Riversend, a small pastoral town in country Victoria on the edge of a dry, arid district.
Into the town arrives Sydney Morning Herald journalist Martin Scarsden (Luke Arnold), sent by his editor (Nicholas Bell) to do a puff piece on the recovery of the town, 12 months after local cop Const. Robbie Haus-Jones (Adam Zwar) was forced to shoot Father Byron Swift (Jay Ryan) dead in his vestibule.
It’s a shameful incident not many locals are willing to discuss, especially given Fr. Swift was deemed to be a paedophile. But not everybody is convinced of such a smear, including local book store owner Mandy (Bella Heathcote). She only witnessed kindness, sparking the investigative instinct in our hero. For everyone who says he was a paedophile others consider him Mother Theresa…
Across four episodes Martin will get to know the townsfolk, portrayed variously by actors including Martin Copping, Victoria Thaine, Ella Ferris, Fletcher Humphrys, Scott Major, Genevieve Morris, Alison Whyte and the enigmatic Robert Taylor as a patriarchal landowner and father to Mandy.
Martin will also begin to uncover secrets and lies, especially when engaging with rogue teens portrayed by Stacy Clausen and Zane Ciarma.
Director Greg McLean draws upon the stark landscape with cinematographer Marden Dean capturing all kinds of moody, haunting shots of a dying town which on your big screen TV are visually arresting. The violent moments will jolt you, and at times remind you of McLean’s earlier Wolf Creek.
Jay Ryan as the hunky, brooding priest is terrific, whose story will unravel through flashback scenes. Adam Zwar beautifully underplays a benevolent, somewhat hapless, local cop, while Bella Heathcote and Robert Taylor are perfectly cast.
But this is Luke Arnold’s series as the wily, determined journo. He continues to turn in solid performances, even if it will be hard to top his role as a young Michael Hutchence many moons ago.
I did keep wondering what on earth the original police investigation had been up to if all it takes is an SMH to get the bottom of the truth. Were they Keystone Cops?
The series, which draws upon the first of three novels around Martin Scarsden, is something of a slow-burn but remains engaging thanks to its fine ensemble. At just 4 episodes from hitmakers Easy Tiger, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Stan continues to offer well made local dramas, a destination Nine is prioritising for its premium dramas.
Scrublands screens Thursday on Stan.