Netflix’s Tiger King, about a group of eccentric cat breeders in Florida, was a sign of the dog days of the pandemic for all of us when it was released in March 2020, and so most prefer that the exploitative documentaries remain a product of the past. But various series or television documentaries released since then have tried to break the formula: open the lid of society’s trash can to take a look inside. “Last Stop Larrimah” from director Thomas Tancred is not quite like that, as this almost two-hour Max documentary about the quirky townspeople of a small town in the Northern Territory of Australia with a population of 11 is never so much exploitative as it is popular with its protagonists. But the local color on display – and the repetitiveness of the details, reminiscent of an hour-long film stretched to what feels like a series length in a feature – suggest that HBO is trying to trigger a viral phenomenon like “Tiger King”, but in the outback.
Less than two weeks before Christmas, on December 16, 2017, 70-year-old Paddy Moriarty went missing. His dog Kellie also disappeared. His disappearance was never solved and he was never found. Tancred’s documentary works backwards to figure out how this might have happened, shedding light on the various power struggles in the city that may have led to his disappearance. Maybe Barry, the owner of the local pub and unspoken mayor of the town, had something to do with it. Or his pet crocodile. Or what about Paddy’s neighbors Karl and Robbie directly across the street? Maybe they knew something, and also because they hated him. Then there’s Fran, the teahouse owner and local meat pie dealer, who has her own dislike for him. (There’s even speculation that Fran went full-on Sweeney Todd and put Paddy in said meat pies.) Meanwhile, Fran’s gardener Owen and Owen’s dog pretty much always wanted Paddy and Kellie dead.
Since there are so few people in the city, it’s easy to point fingers. “Last Stop Larrimah” unfolds as “An Outback Story in 5 Chapters” – and anything that hints at that kind of chapter structure will inevitably have you checking the clock, or at least counting how many chapters are left are worth reading if you’re not invested. With each chapter, a new level of Paddy as a loud-mouthed outback cliché emerges, but not without a fascinating backstory. Paddy emigrated from Ireland as a teenager in the 1960s before working as a stockman and eventually ending up in Larrimah, where he never left. Paddy’s ephemeral past suggests that he once again disappeared into thin air of his own free will, leaving his cowboy hat and wallet behind in the house.
Tancred’s aesthetic approach to the material feels a little too cheeky at times, as if he’s both confused and a little made fun of by these people, particularly in his music choices. Anyone not native to this remote middle of nowhere would be overwhelmed, but Tancred perhaps doesn’t capture quite the same awe of the outback’s orange desert beauty and its people as its camera and jaunty soundtrack doesn’t always help. But at least this is a city with a Pink Panther-themed hotel. For true crime fans, Last Stop Larrimah isn’t a must-watch, and I’m told the Lost in Larrimah podcast from five years ago gives an even clearer account of the mysterious events. But the disturbing, unsolved nature of the story remains sharp, as do the missing person posters throughout the community.
“Last Stop Larrimah” is now streaming on HBO Max.