An anxious former fraudster comes ashore at Malta only to find big trouble among a hedonistic community of Swedish expats, in Axel Petersén’s cunning, stylish thriller.
Shame on Dry Land
A former swindler seeking redemption after years away at sea, Dimman (Joel Spira) is clearly the wrong man for the job when he’s enlisted for some seriously shady business. But this anxiety-ridden character’s struggle to stay on top of a fast-evolving situation makes him the perfect protagonist for Axel Petersén’s fourth feature, a knotty thriller and a skillfully crafted and richly satisfying merger of ’70s crime flick and classic film noir.
The film also makes the most of its sun-baked setting: Malta, where a wealthy community of Swedish expats is preparing for the nuptials of two of their own. Having ensnared the groom Fredrik (Christopher Wagelin) in a fraud before dropping off the grid, Dimman is an uninvited and unwanted guest, but he’s sincere in his efforts to make amends. Alas, that ambition is derailed when Kiki (Jacqueline Ramel) — the charismatic woman who helped Dimman put his life back together — tasks him with tailing a mystery man who turns out to have his own nefarious agenda.
With lush cinematography, an intoxicating score, and a sly sense of humour, Shame on Dry Land fits into a lineage of nimble thrillers about untrustworthy people. With its astute take on hedonism’s dark heart, there are also echoes of Petersén’s stylish debut Avalon, which premiered at the Festival in 2011. Yet the film’s most remarkable and resonant element may be its central figure, a man whose desperate efforts to contain his inner turmoil may actually give him the agility he requires to survive this steamy snakepit.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: coarse language, violence, sexual innuendo, mature themes