“If you don’t know who your mob are, you don’t know who you are,” Detective Andrea “Andie” Whitford (played by Leah Purcell) is told early into the new crime series High Country.

Andie has recently arrived in the lush remote Victorian high country with her partner Helen Hartley (Sara Wiseman), both trying to put traumas behind them as they start afresh.

Driving along a snaking road, Andie finds an isolated Mercedes Benz car. The driver’s door is wide open and the owner has left valuables behind, including keys and wallet.

Doctor Haber (Francis Greenslade) is another in a line of missing persons who have disappeared mysteriously into the rural mountain wilderness.

New in town and without the experience of other local police, Andie – to the decry of her colleagues – is assigned the case of solving a murder and the disappearance of two locals that has the agitated town wanting answers.

Seasoned hands

From the opening of this new eight-part series on Binge, High Country feels in steady hands helped by the well-seasoned cast of familiar Australian crime-genre actors. Purcell (previously seen in Wentworth) is joined by Aaron Pedersen (Mystery Road), Nicholas Bell (Scrublands), Henry Nixon (The Kettering Incident), Geoff Morrell (Deep Water) and the versatile Northern Irish actor Ian McElhinney.

High Country was created and written by Marcia Gardner and John Ridley, whose background includes scripting Australian network crime shows Wentworth and Stingers. They are joined by Wentworth director Kevin Carlin, who directs five of the eight episodes.

With this experience, Gardner, Ridley and Carlin have created a well-plotted and suspenseful procedural crime series that never loses pace or focus. An effective cliffhanger ends each episode, making this a very binge-worthy show.

High Country sits within the tradition of uniformed middle-aged female police officers, most notably Jodie Foster in the recent series of True Detective: Night Country and Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley.

Similar to these series, Andie’s own past comes back to haunt her, forcing her to confront the very thing that she was trying to flee. High Country equally deals with the issues and frustrations of women having to navigate the gender politics of a male-dominated workforce.

Space for contemplation

Despite High Country arriving in a packed market of quality crime television and the show always playing within the tropes of the crime genre (dirty cops, historical town secrets, wrongly accused victims), there is enough nuance for it never to feel predictable or cliched.

An important reason for this is Purcell’s captivating performance, equally convincing in the sensitive domestic scenes with her partner and wayward teenager daughter, contrasted against dealing with the white, male, toxic thugs who think they run the town.

Leah Purcell in the woods

Leah Purcell’s performance is captivating. Photo: Sarah Enticknap / Binge

High Country possesses a vastness that allows ample opportunity for contemplation. The viewer is invited to delve into the intricacies of the setting and its characters. The writing and cinematography are multi-dimensional, offering depth and complexity that encourages reflection and engagement at each turn.

Australian rural noir

The line “if you don’t know who your mob are, you don’t know who you are” is repeated across the series. It also becomes the very thing that Andie must investigate in order to solve the crime.

In the rich tapestry of Australian crime fiction – and as its title would suggest – High Country adds to the rise of what has been dubbed “outback” or “rural” noir, sharing similarity with other recent Australian series such as Scrublands and Mystery Road.

A localised theme emerging through Australian rural noir is the Indigenous detective at the centre of the narrative. This is true of TV shows Mystery Road and High Country, and also present in literary rural crime noir such as Julie Janson’s Madukka: The River Serpent (2022), an outback crime novel told from the perspective of an Aboriginal sleuth in her 50s.

Three policemen.

Andie must confront the boys’ club of the local police force. Photo: Sarah Enticknap / Binge

Taking place in the Victorian Alps, High Country was filmed in the region that served as the backdrop for Robert Connelly’s latest feature film, Force of Nature: The Dry 2, which also deals with people missing in the Victorian wilderness.

Set in the close-knit community, the narrative tackles climate change, domestic violence, and Indigenous identity and land possession. Garner and Ridley paint a vivid picture of the ethical and societal ramifications of these challenges on rural populations.

High Country presents a poignant and impactful exploration of environmental crises and domestic turmoil that has every potential to resonate with a broad mainstream streaming audience.

High Country is on Binge now.The Conversation

Stephen Gaunson is Associate Professor in Cinema Studies at RMIT University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to https://inreview.com.au/inreview/film/2024/03/20/high-country-delivers-a-fresh-take-on-australian-rural-noir/ to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard