A Shaggy and Compelling Murder Mystery About a Small Australian Town [SXSW]
Mar 18, 2023
Larrimah, the small Australian town that gives Thomas Tancred’s documentary its title, has a population of 11. Or, at least, it had 11 people until one, Paddy Moriarty, went missing along with his dog in 2017. A portrait of an eccentric town that almost feels like a social experiment, just as much as it’s a murder mystery, “Last Stop Larrimah” is a shaggy, fascinating tale that marries Duplass Brothers-style absurdity (they act as producers here) with the ever-popular true-crime genre to pretty enthralling results.
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As its subtitle, “An Outback Tale in 5 Chapters,” alludes to, Tancred’s approach first zooms into the inhabitants of Larrimah. Located in the Northern Territory, a few hundred miles from Darwin and about 50 miles from the nearest police station, Larrimah is an incredibly small township that includes a small pub, a few houses, and a lot of bitter infighting. Originally a fuel junction during WWII, the town slowly faded, eventually becoming a haven for the eccentrics who wanted to live off the grid.
Tancred takes his time introducing all of the characters and their relationships to each other, mixing present-day interviews with archival footage from the ’80s to give a sense that this town was close before a series of (seemingly) minor events created factions. On one end was Barry Sharpe, the owner of the pub, while on the other were Karl and Bobbie Roth, who viewed themselves as leaders of the town. Mix in a lot of alcohol and a series of minor transgressions that blew up too, perhaps, deadly results. These mainly circled around Barry and tea-shop owner Fran Hodgetts, who created semi-famous meat pies that Barry ended up copying.
In the middle of these rivalries sat Moriarty, who aligned himself with Barry, if only because he spent most of his time at the pub. An Irish immigrant who landed in Australia in the ’60s, he mainly wandered around, getting kicked out of towns for his drunken behavior, before he ended up in Larrimah. At first, he was described for his carefree attitude before he ended up making enemies with pretty much everyone in the town for one reason or another.
He was especially hostile towards Fran and her odd gardener Owen, whom he would often get into stand-offs with about their dogs. When he disappears one day, it isn’t exactly surprising, considering his personality, but the fact that he does so without a trace brings up questions about the town and its inhabitants.
After spending considerable time setting up these relationships, “Last Stop Larrimah” pivots to suggest a host of different possibilities. Perhaps Fran killed Paddy, putting him in her meat pies like “Sweeney Todd,” or it could be Barry, who fell out with Paddy and also happens to have a pet crocodile. Some of these theories hold more weight than others, as Tancred spins a number of different options.
It’s also at this point where the film’s rambling nature gets the better of it. The chapter structure suggests a more coherent and organized film than ‘Last Stop’ ultimately gives. Instead, it’s pretty digressive, jumping back and forth in time freely, sometimes to disorienting effect. Add in interviews with the locals, as well as journalists and police officers who covered the disappearance, and Tancred’s film spirals in a few too many directions at once.
‘Last Stop’ works best when it’s honed in on mapping the relationships and grievances of the town, synthesizing a complex social and personal history into a lively anthropological study of people on the outskirts of society. When it pivots to a murder mystery, it has an obvious locked-room allure. We only have so many suspects, each with their own reason to hate Paddy. We even get something of a conclusion, even if his body still hasn’t been found.
But, Tancred also suggests out too many outlandish possibilities before narrowing in on a probable suspect and showing the actual repercussions such a crime can have on a close community. Overall, however, “Last Stop Larrimah” is an amusing film that has found a fascinating story and even more compelling characters. [B]
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