SXSW 2023 Review: It’s the Journey, Not the Destination in the Fascinating “Last Stop Larrimah”

Relatively late in “Last Stop Larrimah,” you realize that one of the film’s main subjects, seen in present-day interviews as hale and hearty as ever until the point where their health takes a turn, passed away in 2019 with director Thomas Tancred making no one the wiser just how long he set up for in the small Australian town of Larrimah where it’s entirely possible that even with a small camera crew, he doubled the town’s population of 11. Or make that 10, as the wily documentary cheekily notes following the death of Paddy Moriarty, a cattleman who was last seen at the local pub and disappeared without a trace, leaving everyone else to wonder whether foul play was involved. Pitched as a mystery at first, there’s increasingly less and less doubt that Moriarty’s untimely end came by someone else’s hand yet in a place where everyone could reasonably be a suspect, finger pointing is even more fraught when the locals have to live with any accusation they make in a more tangible way than might happen in a metropolis when no matter who it is, it’s literally their next door neighbor.

All the time that went into “Last Stop Larrimah” is well spent, both by Tancred and eventually any viewer when the film subtly shifts from a tantalizing true crime narrative to a deeper rumination of how fragile communities are, particularly when they’re populated by those looking to run away from a larger society in the first place. As Kristy O’Brien, a TV reporter from the big city describes the remote burgh, “[it’s] one pub, a crocodile and a handful of residents,” making it a draw for people like herself to stop by on their way somewhere else with the colorful characters who decide to put down roots there. Even when there’s only one focal spot in town — the aforementioned pub, which also operates as the Hotel Larrimah and boasts an adjoining zoo and bus depot, owned by a fellow named Barry, who once sold Steve Irwin’s father his first crocodile, Tancred might’ve had difficulties deciding where to point the camera when there’s intrigue in all directions, separate from the crime he’s ostensibly there to investigate, with interviews occasionally interrupted by the odd thing going on in the background.

“Last Stop Larrimah” doesn’t initially disabuse outsiders’ likely preconceptions of a tourist attraction where everyone says “G’day,” only you begin to find out they haven’t said it to one another for some time, with a rivalry brewing between Fran, the proud owner of a meat pie shop, and Barry, who starts selling his own savories, with their tensions either growing or exacerbating others among residents, including Paddy, who keeps a regular seat at the end of Barry’s bar until his likely murder and Fran’s ex-husband Bill, who carries more concerns around than the immediately pressing one of keeping the beer in his outdoor fridge cold. One can tell from the changing appearance of the subjects that Tancred didn’t swoop in and out for filming, yielding a far richer story than what was likely to emerge from those who descended on Larrimah in the immediate wake of Paddy’s disappearance, but ironically it was the curiosity of O’Brien and her news crew years earlier that provides the backbone for the film when a light human interest story on Larrimah can be looked upon later as revealing of the deep discontent that existed there.

At times, “Last Stop Larrimah” can’t always elegantly hide what it’s saving for dramatic effect, but it is easy to overlook what sleight of hand doesn’t entirely work when Tancred has such a strong hold on the story he wants to tell, pushing past the sensational tale that has put Larrimah on the map for an individual tragedy while illustrating a wider-reaching one as minor squabbles metastasize into conflicts that can swallow a place whole. When the residents themselves have no doubt coped with a healthy sense of humor, it proves just a disarming way in for Tancred to untangle a complicated tale, yet when speaking of a town that could be seen as a laughingstock, the mere act of seeing their lives taken seriously becomes moving.

“Last Stop Larrimah” will air on HBO later this year.

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.