Bad Land: Road To Fury (Young Ones was the original title) is a neo-western from writer-director Jake Paltrow. It’s a solid dystopian sci-fi drama with a lot of good disparate ideas and strong performances (particularly from Michael Shannon). However, ultimately Paltrow’s many pieces don’t congeal and therefore the film is never the some of its parts. That’s not to say the film isn’t very good (it is) but it’s lack of focus means that some of the core concepts are left underdeveloped.
Set in a dystopian future where water is scarce, Paltrow’s film sees Michael Shannon’s Ernest, a down-on-his-luck farmer protecting his son Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee and daughter Mary (Elle Fanning) from the ravages of nature and scavengers eager to take what little of value he has left. Things begin to go bad when Nicholas Hoult’s bad boy Flem takes a shine to Ernest’s Mary and their love affair rips the family apart and means that Jerome must evaluate what it means to be a man.
Michael Shannon delivers the best performance in Bad Land. His an honest man with troubles, eager to work his land and make everything okay for his family. It’s not a coincidence that he’s called Ernest; he’s an earnest man with the weight of the disintegrating world on his shoulders. Smit-McPhee does respectable work as the young teenager living in the shadow of his father, while Nicholas Hoult flexes his screen persona as the antagonist of the piece. Fanning, however is left with a thankless role that fails to come to life on screen.
Low key and low-fi, Paltrow’s film works best when its focusing on the minutiae of a crumbled future. The small details feel very real, be that the fact that Shannon’s home is made of shipping containers or the robotic farming tools that populate the dry and crusty terrain. The film’s low budget doesn’t allow for anything too spectacular but the impressive vistas (it was shot in South Africa) help sell things on a visual level. You could roll back the film’s setting and play it as a western and it would lose very little in terms of story or theme. It might even have worked better that way.
Entertaining, but never breathtaking Bad Land: Road To Fury offers up a post apocalyptic film that is superficial without ever feeling like it adds anything new to the genre. It’s a solid attempt at delivering the type low-key science fiction from a bygone era but there’s not enough fix to make it memorable.