When a priest opens fire on his own congregation a journalist discovers a town full of secrets and lies in Stan's brooding new drama.

New Stan drama Scrublands opens with a bang, literally, when a country priest shockingly opens fire on his own congregation outside his church.

Five parishioners are chillingly shot in cold blood with precision aim.

Welcome to Riversend, a small pastoral town in country Victoria on the edge of a dry, arid district.

Into the town arrives Sydney Morning Herald journalist Martin Scarsden (Luke Arnold), sent by his editor (Nicholas Bell) to do a puff piece on the recovery of the town, 12 months after local cop Const. Robbie Haus-Jones (Adam Zwar) was forced to shoot Father Byron Swift (Jay Ryan) dead in his vestibule.

It’s a shameful incident not many locals are willing to discuss, especially given Fr. Swift was deemed to be a paedophile. But not everybody is convinced of such a smear, including local book store owner Mandy (Bella Heathcote). She only witnessed kindness, sparking the investigative instinct in our hero. For everyone who says he was a paedophile others consider him Mother Theresa…

Across four episodes Martin will get to know the townsfolk, portrayed variously by actors including Martin Copping, Victoria Thaine, Ella Ferris, Fletcher Humphrys, Scott Major, Genevieve Morris, Alison Whyte and the enigmatic Robert Taylor as a patriarchal landowner and father to Mandy.

Martin will also begin to uncover secrets and lies, especially when engaging with rogue teens portrayed by Stacy Clausen and Zane Ciarma.

Director Greg McLean draws upon the stark landscape with cinematographer Marden Dean capturing all kinds of moody, haunting shots of a dying town which on your big screen TV are visually arresting. The violent moments will jolt you, and at times remind you of McLean’s earlier Wolf Creek.

Jay Ryan as the hunky, brooding priest is terrific, whose story will unravel through flashback scenes. Adam Zwar beautifully underplays a benevolent, somewhat hapless, local cop, while Bella Heathcote and Robert Taylor are perfectly cast.

But this is Luke Arnold’s series as the wily, determined journo. He continues to turn in solid performances, even if it will be hard to top his role as a young Michael Hutchence many moons ago.

I did keep wondering what on earth the original police investigation had been up to if all it takes is an SMH to get the bottom of the truth. Were they Keystone Cops?

The series, which draws upon the first of three novels around Martin Scarsden, is something of a slow-burn but remains engaging thanks to its fine ensemble. At just 4 episodes from hitmakers Easy Tiger, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Stan continues to offer well made local dramas, a destination Nine is prioritising for its premium dramas.

Scrublands screens Thursday on Stan.

12 Responses

  1. The Scrublands plot contains some large, ungodly holes. Intrepid journo Martin, who has ” a nose for bullshit” doesn’t smell a rat when the Coroner’s Inquiry into 5 murders is illegally stalled. In fact Martin doesn’t even flare a nostril. The Australian Defence Force considers sending an Aussie soldier to Pakistan for execution. Can you imagine the nationwide headlines? Martin can’t. And what about those mysterious police files that contain information so privacy intrusive that the only employment the Police Commissioner would ever get again would be stripping on OnlyFans? Martin isn’t worried. He’s too busy unethically hanky-panky-ing with a local lass to even break a sweat. If I were Martin’s SMH editor, I wouldn’t trust him to write puff pieces. Or even the Astrology page. And I certainly wouldn’t give him a Walkley for this.

  2. If the Australian Government wants more local content seen on global streaming services then Scrublands is a good example of what to offer, with its charismatic cast and the sort of austere Australian Outback backdrop overseas customers would find interesting, much like the frigid snowy landscapes of Norway have been for the Nordic Noir genre. Having said that the challenge is there for content creators not to feature too many stereotypes of Australian’s and their lifestyle, but if it sells I don’t suppose that matters.

  3. For those of you who don’t know this show is based on the excellent novel of the same name by Chris Hammer and it’s 100% better. I didn’t even get through the first episode.

  4. “The series, which draws upon the first of three novels around Martin Scarsden……”

    by excellent Australian author Chris Hammer!

    Credit where it’s due please.

  5. I have been a fan of Luke Arnold since Black Sails and also Robert Taylor since Longmire….the story is intriguing and I am really looking forward to this, thank you for the review.

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