In his latest cinematic offering, Ivan Sen returns to the Australian outback, showcasing his ability to evoke raw emotion and offer insights into Australian culture.

The Indigenous Australian filmmaker’s Limbo tells the story of an investigation into a 20-year-old murder of a local Indigenous girl in a remote town. 

Simon Baker, best known for his role as Patrick Jane in the CBS drama series The Mentalist, plays the film’s lead Travis Hurley, a jaded, heroin-addicted cop who arrives in the remote opal-mining town of Limbo to investigate the cold case of Charlotte Hayes.  

Joining Baker, British-Australian actor Nicholas Hope, renowned for his lead role in Bad Boy Bubby, Natasha Wanganeen and Rob Collins (Cleverman), round out a good ensemble cast. Wanganeen once again portrays a guardian-like figure as she did in her starring role as Nina in Rabbit-Proof Fence, while Collins proves his talent both on-screen and behind the camera. 

Like all of Sen’s films (think Mystery Road and Goldstone) the protagonist is a stranger in a remote town, only this time he is white, and the people of the town including estranged siblings Charlie (Collins) and Emma (Wanganeen) as well as Leon’s brother Joseph (Hope) refuse to talk to him initially.

Sen subtlety plays with the narrative of black and white culture through the film’s cinematography, working in mainly white noirs rather than the usual black.  

Additionally, his use of white noir helps bring out the shadows and silhouettes that occur throughout the film, hinting to the audience that there is more to Charlotte’s case than what is told.  

Jamie Chong’s isolated focus shots on the actors, combined with diegetic noises, immerse the audience and makes you feel like the stranger entering the remote town

The cinematography of Limbo is not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye but also links to the name of the town and film title itself, with the gray tones indicating being caught between the past and present.

This notion of being caught in limbo is reinforced by the dialogue that focuses on the past, combined with tape recording of the initial interviews.

Limbo personifies the show don’t tell style, as much of the story and plot is relayed through the silent actions of the characters rather than their dialogue.

Additionally, Jamie Chong’s isolated focus shots on the actors and actresses in Limbo combined with diegetic noises, especially in the opening sequence of the film, does a good job at immersing the audience into the setting and making you feel like a stranger entering the remote Australian town.

In the first half of the film we are introduced to various religious motifs, with the first piece of dialogue we hear being a sermon on Joseph the Dreamer. It is through these religious motifs that Sen creates the sombre tone of the film and effectively capture the harsh reality of cold case crimes.

The repetition of stills of Charlotte’s art at key points in the film is used to demonstrate the importance of kinship to Indigenous Australians. Sen portrays a second layer of importance to the art as it symbolises the gaping wound within the remaining family members, subtlety conveyed in Chong’s close ups.

Through Limbo’s focus on the landscape, especially with the opening and ending scenes, as shown by Chong’s stills and aerial shots of remote Coober Pedy, Sen hints at another significant part of Indigenous Australian culture, its connection to the land.


Limbo, in its minimalist style, is a refreshing break from action-packed, heavy dialogue films, as it links past with present both through the criminal investigation and the culture of Indigenous Australians.

Limbo is being streamed during the First Nations Film Festival.

Main image of Simon Baker and Natasha Wanganeen screenshot from Limbo.