Last Stop Larrimah grabbed my attention right away from the description. It’s a stranger-than-fiction true crime documentary about the goings-on in Larrimah, a remote Australian town with only 10 residents. There were 11 until Paddy Moriarty went missing on December 16, 2017. My enthusiasm only increased knowing that the Duplass Brothers, a team that never misses, backed the production. Like a tall tale campfire story, the mystery of Paddy’s disappearance draws us into the circle of light, but Last Stop Larrimah seeks to deliver more than a whodunit. The town as a whole, with its bizarre history and quirky residents, is the true star of this show.
The documentary begins by introducing each of the town’s current residents with cheerful, affectionate nicknames — Cookie “the candy thief, Fran “the pie lady.” All seems chipper and friendly on the surface. The residents look like one big happy family who love their town. The tone changes quickly when we learn that Paddy has gone missing. As the story continues, the upbeat illusion dissolves, and the town’s legacy of feuding and infighting manifests through the stories they share. Almost everyone has a reason to despise Paddy. Agatha Christie couldn’t construct a more intricately plotted web of conflict or a more delightful, quirky cast of characters. The story involves a pie war, arson, a kelpie pup, roadkill, a crocodile, kangaroo penises, and other amazing twists and turns.
Besides the residents, we also hear from the lead detective and some of the people hired to solve the case. The residents, who prefer to resolve conflicts without interference, view these people with suspicion.
This is not the first time that the strange tale of Paddy Moriarty and the town of Larrimah has been curated for mass consumption. In 2018, Kylie Stevenson and Caroline Graham released the award-winning Lost in Larrimah, a six-episode podcast about the missing man, with a follow-up book deal. ABC News also created a four-part series in 2018 called A Dog Act: Homicide on the Highway. Last Stop Larrimah director Thomas Tancred repurposes some of this footage in his film. Also, the gift of time allows him and his crew to speak to the people in different points in history. In later segments, the residents look back in hindsight. Many have moved away or become ill, depleting the population even further. There’s a sadness to these reveals. With a population of only 10 people, Larrimah is a town already in decline. The loss of even one resident feels devastating.
Tancred and crew take their time spinning this story, dividing the events into five acts. In each act, a new group of suspects comes to light. Tancred’s approach interweaves his interviews of the residents with found footage of Paddy and the townspeople from newsreels. To drive a point home, the editor often plays clips against each other, comparing two different takes on one event, sometimes pausing or rewinding and playing a segment multiple times. In true documentary fashion, these techniques allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Tancred doesn’t attempt to drive the point home or connect all the dots.
Music supervisor Allison Wood’s pitch-perfect soundtrack selections suit the two main components that make up Larrimah — quaint folks and bitter feuds. In the prologue to “Long Black Train,” Lee Hazlewood reminds us that, like in all small towns, “it has some people who are bad all the time, and it has some people who are good all the time. But most of the people are good and bad most of the time.” Those lyrics certainly ring true for the people we meet from Larrimah. Each resident has a nasty secret and a grudge to bear uncovered by the end.
As the mystery unfurls, the ongoing question of “Who Offed Paddy Moriarty” fades as an unsolved mystery, even when late-breaking new evidence comes to light. Paddy is just one chess piece on the board. But what happens to a town flooded by interest only when a possible murder occurs? Whatever their reasons, each resident came to Larrimah by choice, perhaps to get away from the bustle. After Paddy’s disappearance, news networks and the curious descend from all directions, invading the privacy and quiet that these folks clearly treasure. Did a little piece of them die each time a new shiny vehicle pulled into the pub?
Last Stop Larrimah reminds us that a person goes missing every three hours in Australia. Whether Paddy was murdered or just left town, his disappearance is commonplace. And while I found the story entertaining, I’m not sure it needed to be made. The story was already detailed twice by podcasters and ABC News. My mind strays to the thousands of Indigenous women who go missing every year, the majority of whom go unreported. I would rather more stories bring attention to that travesty.
Last Stop Larrimah certainly fits the bill If you want an entertaining scandal. This true crime documentary offers the type of fodder that appeals to the masses. But perhaps it’s time to let Paddy and the people of Larrimah rest in peace.
Screened during SXSW 2023.
For more information, head to the official SXSW Last Stop Larrimah webpage.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.