Sweet River Movie Review

Written by Joel Harley

Released by ACM Films


Directed by Justin McMillan
Written by Eddie Baroo and Marc Furmie
2020, 102 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Grimmfest UK Premiere on 2nd April 2021

Lisa Kay as Hanna
Eddie Baroo as Tom Evans
Chris Haywood as Nigel
Martin Sacks as John Drake


A mother follows the trail of her missing son to the small town of Billins, Australia. The outlook isn’t good though, with her baby Joey being one of the victims of a now-dead serial killer. Does Hanna (Lisa Kay) stand a chance of recovering her son’s remains, or has all hope died, along with the kid and his killer? Do the foreboding, impenetrable cane fields hold the answer? And why do we get the sense that local old fogeys John and Elenore know more than they’re letting on?

sweet river 01 sweet river 02

From dead kids to powerful grief metaphors, there are more than a few shades of The Babadook and The Lovely Bones to Justin McMillan’s supernatural thriller. As per the heavy subject matter, it’s a brooding, moody film, heaving with sadness. Lisa Kay is perfectly cast as determined, grieving Hanna; up there with Essie Davis and Naomi Watts in burdened, sad mom energy. She’s well-joined by Martin Sacks and Genevieve Lemon as the old couple who bear the brunt of Hanna’s enquiries.

While there’s no shortage of ghosts to be found, those expecting Insidious or The Conjuring-level jump scares are bound to be disappointed. This is a slow, soulful rumination on grief and the grieving process, more interested in helping Hanna find closure than it is in scaring the piss out of her.

sweet river 03 sweet river 04

To some, this might feel like a bit of a waste. Sweet River oozes atmosphere, from the bleak, unwelcoming town to the dark and ominous cane fields. Its ghosts aren’t particularly menacing (how do you fluff up dead kids?) but the rest of the imagery gets the job done. Thankfully, it’s dark without being overwhelming - it doesn’t make for easy viewing, but nor does it wallow in its dark themes.

sweet river 05 sweet river 06

Prioritising mood over big brash jjump scares, Sweet River is a deeply affecting work of Aussie horror, thick with feeling and atmosphere. Those with a hankering for something with a bit of depth should appreciate its Australian gothic vibes. It may be too slow for some, and too obtuse for others, but then - grief isn’t a short or easy process. 


Movie: 3 Star Rating Cover

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Joel Harley
Staff Reviewer
Haribo fiend, Nicolas Cage scholar and frequently functioning alcoholic. These are just some of the words which can be used to describe Joel Harley. The rest, he uses to write film criticism for Horror DNA and a variety of websites and magazines. Sometimes he manages to do so without swearing.
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