The town of Jindabyne in Australia's New South Wales isn't what it used to be, literally. Relocated as part of a water-diversion scheme in the '60s, the old town now rests at the bottom of a lake around which the current town resides. When Gabriel Byrne, playing a retired Irish racing star now running a garage in Jindabyne, takes his son fishing, they return with one small fish and one considerable alarm clock pulled up from the ruins. It's a seemingly normal occurrence in a place where everybody knows that there's something waiting beneath the placid surface, even if no one knows exactly what.
Byrne has a more ambitious fishing trip in mind, however, and with three buddies he sets off to a remote river location where they make an unexpected discovery: The nude body of a young Aboriginal woman floating in the water. Instead of notifying the police immediately, they tie the body to shore and finish out their weekend trip. Upon their return, they find a community appalled at their decision, particularly Byrne's wife (Laura Linney) and the woman's family, who see it as just another case of whites treating the Aboriginal community with disdain.
If the plot sounds familiar, you've probably read Raymond Carver's short story "So Much Water, So Close To Home" or seen the Robert Altman film Short Cuts, which weaves it into a tapestry of L.A. That film's detractors point out, somewhat undeservedly, that Altman emphasizes his own characteristic pessimism over the gritty, unexpected epiphanies that are Carver's trademark. They'll be even more frustrated with Jindabyne, which uses the framework of Carver's story as an opportunity to open up a community's old wounds and ends with no sign that anything will close them.
Director Ray Lawrence and screenwriter Beatrix Christian don't seem to have much interest in tidy stories with definable beginnings and ends. We never learn how an Irish driver and his American wife ended up in such a place. Characters talk about things being different "this time" without referencing any other time. It's obtuse and overstuffed by design, filled with characters recovering from traumas of which we never learn the source, like an orphan girl whose obsession with death keeps growing more intense by the scene. In the end, it's all a bit too self-consciously mysterious and Lawrence leans a bit too much on the atmosphere to do the work for him as he builds to a frustrating ending. But his vision of a place haunted by a restlessness it can't define proves unsettlingly infectious.