2 February 2024

Pick of the Flicks – True Detective: Night Country

| Rama Gaind
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movie scene of two female police officers in snow-covered area

Jodie Foster (left) and Kali Reis investigate a perplexing mystery shrouded in freezing darkness in True Detective: Night Country. Photo: Supplied.

True Detective: Night Country Season 4 summons viewers into the bleak, unsympathetic landscape of Ennis, Alaska, placing a new spin on the traditional neo-noir formula of the True Detective series.

This season flips the dynamics that have traditionally seen a show with a lot of masculine energy and characters. This HBO crime drama television series created by Nic Pizzolatto premiered in 2014. Each season is structured as a self-contained narrative, engaging new cast ensembles and following various sets of characters and settings.

The first season, starring Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts and Tory Kittles, followed a pair of Louisiana State Police detectives and their pursuit of a serial killer with occult links over a 17-year period.

A year later, the second season, with Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, Kelly Reilly and Vince Vaughn, set in California, centred on three detectives from three cooperating police jurisdictions and a criminal-turned-businessman as they investigated a succession of crimes they believed were linked to the murder of a corrupt politician.

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In 2019, the third season took place in the Ozarks over three time periods as a pair of Arkansas State Police detectives investigate a macabre crime involving two missing children. Mahershala Ali, Carmen Ejogo, Stephen Dorff, Scoot McNairy and Ray Fisher were among the cast.

Five years later, the fourth instalment has opened to ”universal acclaim”. It’s anchored hypnotically by Academy Award winner Jodie Foster, who perhaps is best known for her roles in Silence of the Lambs, The Accused and Taxi Driver. She took home the Best Actress Oscar in 1989 and 1992 for the former two roles.

Nearly 35 years after her Oscar-winning role as FBI trainee Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Foster returns to her ”killer-hunting roots’’, solving crimes as only she can. For the latest season, she is also an executive producer.

Directed by Mexican filmmaker Issa Lopez (Tigers Are Not Afraid), who also wrote or co-wrote all six episodes, Detective: Night Country marks Pizzolatto’s first time as neither writer nor ”showrunner”.

As darkness descends on remote Alaskan town Ennis, eight staff vanish from the Tsalal Arctic Research Station. As Ennis police chief Liz Danvers, Foster stars opposite Kali Reis (professional boxer and actress), who plays the role of state trooper Evangeline Navarro. These two have a complex history, coming together to investigate the mysterious disappearance shrouded in freezing darkness.

Ennis is a fictional mining town about 241 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, where several weeks of every year are spent in a period of uninterrupted winter darkness known as polar night. Even the welcome sign says ”The end of the world”.

Being in an isolated and blinkered place, the mining company and its supporters have often clashed with the local Indigenous community. Six years before this show, a Native woman named Annie K was found dead with her tongue cut out, but as her murder was never solved, a rift was created between Danvers and Navarro. It became an obsession for the latter.

Annie K’s ghost case once again rears its head when three days later, a delivery man discovers the scientists have all vanished, leaving only the tongue behind. When Danvers, her disobedient deputy Hank Prior (John Hawkes) and Hank’s son Pete Prior (Finn Bennett), an up-and-coming officer eager for Danvers’ approval, arrive at the lab to investigate, they find a message left on a whiteboard: “We are all dead.”

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Hearing about the tongue, Navarro instantly confronts Danvers about a possible connection to Annie’s case. Initially, Danvers is hesitant to tie the Tsalal disappearance to Annie’s murder.

In another scenario, a modern frontierswoman, Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw), calls police to the scene after she follows what appears to be the ghost of a man named Travis into the snowy wilderness and discovers the bodies of the scientists twisted together in a bizarre, icy mass, their faces frozen in expressions of fear and agony.

Even though the true nature of what’s happening in True Detective: Night Country does become apparent, director Lopez has said the story was inspired by a pair of real-life mysteries surrounding two strange and, to some, inexplicable occurrences.

Here’s to a commanding murder mystery with a supernatural shade: it’s great to particularly see Foster back in this horror, eerie, crime puzzle-solving genre!

True Detective: Night Country, directed by Issa Lopez, is streaming on Foxtel.

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