Australian auteur Ivan Sen’s searing commentary on justice and law enforcement investigates the cold case of a murdered Indigenous girl in an outback mining town.
“Limbo” is an apt description for the world laid bare in acclaimed filmmaker Ivan Sen’s latest crime drama. When Detective Travis Hurley (Simon Baker) arrives in the eponymous outback town, one could assume that time — or reality — is somehow suspended. An old opal mining town, Limbo is riddled with labyrinthine tunnels; many of the dwellings, including Hurley’s motel, are built into the earth and stone to provide escape from the oppressive heat of Southern Australia.
Battling inner demons and a drug addiction, Hurley is in Limbo to reopen the 20-year-old cold case of a murdered Indigenous girl, whose killer may still live locally. Charlotte’s death — and the subsequent apathy of the investigating officers and non-Indigenous community members — are still painfully felt by her sister Emma (Natasha Wanganeen) and brother Charlie (Rob Collins), who both doubt Hurley’s ability to solve the case with so little evidence and community support.
Baker’s muscular performance brings depth to a troubled yet committed man, stoically seeking some kind of redemption. In the end, Hurley confronts what all residents of Limbo seem to endure: the unrelenting sense that time is meaningless and little will ultimately change.
Sen excels at outback noir (beginning with his brilliant Mystery Road, TIFF ’13), transforming the sun-drenched landscapes of Coober Pedy into a broody yet starkly beautiful black-and-white world. Meditative and sparse, Limbo is full Sen; in addition to writing and directing, he is also the film’s cinematographer and editor. Here, he offers a searing commentary on the failures of colonial law enforcement and judicial systems in serving Indigenous peoples.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: mature themes, coarse language, drug use