When the body of a young boy is discovered in a creek after his mysterious disappearance in a small town, a local sanitation truck driver with autism, Donald (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott) develops an obsession for the case, believing there’s more to the police chief’s account that the boy drowned. Taking on the role of private investigator, Donald finds himself travelling down a dark and treacherous path as he gradually unearths the truth – even if his means are incredibly unorthodox. Initially proving itself to be a genuinely chilling thriller, as the plot thickens, however, Simon Fellows’ Steel Country reveals itself to be unable to balance its multitude of ideas, resulting in a mildly entertaining if underwhelming viewing experience.
The choice to have an autistic protagonist in this genre provides a refreshing take on the whodunnit murder mysteries we’ve seen countless times before. While it could have been easy for the screenplay to resort to a stereotypical representation of the disorder, thankfully Brendan Higgins’s script, combined with a sympathetic performance by Scott, paints Donald as a fully-realised – if somewhat conflicted – human being who isn’t defined purely by his autism. Scott is by far the strongest asset to the film and embodies his character to the most minute of details.
Unfortunately – aside from the occasional shots of breathtaking cinematography – this is as close as the central mystery comes to being captivating. As the narrative progresses, the screenplay can’t resist but to throw more and more spanners into the works, but it lacks the skill to manage them correctly or properly merge them into a cohesive whole to the point where the mystery is ultimately solved off-screen by a supporting character whilst Donald is busy dealing with his relationship with his young daughter (Christa Beth Campbell). There is a gripping thriller in here somewhere, but with every good idea presented, the central mystery gets buried under the weight of a dozen more bad ones.
With the final sequence presenting a puzzlingly out-of-character tonal shift and a handful of important plot threads left dangling far out of our reach, there isn’t much accomplished by the time the credits roll after an anticlimactic finale. Scott’s commendable performance may be what saves Steel Country from being completely unwatchable, but the end result nonetheless feels like a waste of viewers’ time.
Steel Country is released in select cinemas and on demand on 19th April 2019.
Watch the trailer for Steel Country here: