The titular city of Last stop Larrimah seems like an environment ripe for situation comedy. It’s a place with no cell phone reception, no police station, one pub and a pet crocodile. Deep in the Australian Outback, this former bustling outpost has steadily decayed into a highly eccentric community of just 11 people, colorful characters whose lives are bursting with raging feuds, gruesome gossip and seemingly ridiculous accusations. And that was it for one of them went missing.
Documentary filmmaker Thomas Tancred delves deep into the grunting tales of the residents of Larrimah, past and present, to unravel the mystery of what happened to Patrick “Paddy” Moriarty, an Irish stirrer who was last seen on December 16, 2017. true crime documentary Last stop Larrimah delves not only into the facts of the case, but also into the wild theories, all the better to portray the personalities and problems of this captivating and chaotic little town.
What happened to Paddy Moriarty?
That’s the big question Last Stop Larrimah: An Outback Story in Five Chapters. Really, in a town of 11, everyone is a suspect if someone appears to be the victim of foul play. So Tancred takes the time to get to know not only the missing Moriarty, but also the neighbors who loved and loathed him.
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A resident of Larrimah since 1966, Moriarty was a vocal defender of his friends – like pub owner Barry – and a ruthless irritation to his enemies – like meat pie vendor Fran. In archive news footage predating his disappearance, the Irish immigrant sports a bushy moustache, a mischievous smile and an elusive expression as he chronicles the town’s feuds. When accused of stealing a big red umbrella from an irate neighbor, the plucky retiree laughs in denial. But Tancred’s montage pauses and zooms in on the footage, revealing a large red umbrella not far behind Moriarty, flapping in the wind like a great red flag.
Depending on who you ask, Moriarty was a loyal friend, a mean drunk, a playful crook or an unholy terror who broke marriages and dragged dead kangaroos under bedroom windows as a tainted joke. So when he ran away from the pub one night never to be seen again, the cause of his disappearance wasn’t easy to pinpoint. The clues left behind — like an abandoned pet, a half-eaten meal, and his missing dog — pile up into sprawling speculation about the dirt road neighborhood.
Last stop Larrimah is amusing and unnerving in equal measure.
Before the details of the possible crime are revealed, Tancred offers a walk through Larrimah and his people, many of whom have no filter or jerks to give. They are interviewed in their comfort zones, backyards and cozy caravans, where several beers burst open as they settle into their stories. The whimsy and casual drinking reminded me of one of my favorite true crime documentaries of all time, The man who would become Polka Kingwhich begins with a narrator sitting in a bar speaking in his heavy Pennsylvania accent to welcome tourists to the minutiae of that local scandal.
By avoiding the strict studio interview setups used on hundreds of true crime shows, Tancred puts his subjects at ease. They share as if they were telling stories in a bar, facts and speculation intertwined with surprising references to the crocodile hunter Steve Irwin and Sweeney ToddMr. Lovett’s meat pie-making man. Tancred playfully cuts to footage of the Australian TV icon and concert footage of Angela Lansbury in the West End role, and you might well chuckle at the absurdity. Then you might cringe when you consider that as outrageous as these theories and characters are, a man they knew is most likely dead.
Tancred doesn’t forget that and won’t let us. There is an incredible tension in it Last stop Larrimah while the unfolding of the Moriarty case balances a macabre sense of amusement with a poignant pang of loss. In this he mirrors the two wolves at war in true crime reporting, where what makes for a juicy story may be at odds with what makes for a humane story. This struggle is reflected in moments such as a clip from a real newscast where a news reporter gleefully jokes with suspect Fran about her “Paddy pies”, ending with a laugh about how people “think you chopped him!” It seems that even on the news there is room to chuckle about murder and alleged cannibalism.
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Tancred understands this, er, appetite, feeding his audience with the story’s outrageous tidbits as if dropping breadcrumbs into a dark forest. We’re so amused by these bits about aging party animals turning on each other that we might not see the horrors that lie ahead.
Last stop Larrimah doesn’t joke about murder.
Home videos show a Larrimah from not so long ago where the town came together for cricket, camaraderie and ‘a bit of a song’. In modern interviews, there is a palpable nostalgia for this idyllic era, reflected in B-roll footage of the city’s decline and its elderly inhabitants, draped in wrinkles, faded tattoos and world-weary expressions. Their fighting spirit erupts in the interviews, supported by brutal cutaways to archive footage and the aforementioned pop culture fragments, but Tancred also gives space to their pain and vulnerabilities. Far from exploitative, his documentary is enlightening, digging deeper than the brutal news reports about pies and missing persons. Tancred acknowledges their showmanship and charming eccentricities, but also that these are people who have suffered a shocking loss.
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He doesn’t make a game of it. The public isn’t kept on a leash by an indecent series of cliff-hanging episodes, as they might be in a gaudy and boring Netflix docuseries. Instead, he expertly weaves us through this Outback town, its quirks, curses, and darkest chapter in less than two hours. In here, Last stop Larrimah also gives a fairly concrete answer to the question of what became of Paddy Moriarty. Then the Doctor steps into what could be the next chapter for those left behind, essentially asking who one of us could be after our very worst day. Are we crumbling into despair? Or is there a way to rebuild the remains of Larrimah?
In the end, documentary filmmaker Thomas Tancred does more than investigate the curious case of the missing Paddy Moriarty. Of Last stop Larrimah, he offers a complex and captivating portrait of a small town that is unique but could be anywhere. He welcomes us into the circle of a surly enchanting community, bubbling with beer, bite, bitterness and defiant gaiety. He delicately walks the line between the lurid side of true crime and its humane potential, creating a documentary that is in turn joyful, devastating and profound.
Last stop Larrimah was judged at its world premiere at SXSW. It is distributed by HBO.