We are living in the cinematic apocalypse. In the past year we have seen our world falter under the powers of natural disaster and become infested by zombies, just to, identify a few films. Another scenario would involve our demise at our own hands, a situation brought to light in the recent film The Road, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-winning novel of the same title. Literary enthusiasts will be happy to know that the film is loyal to the original composition: It brings to life the grim, gray post-apocalyptic world, which in turn becomes the greatest and weakest feature of the film adaptation.
This is another astonishing and beautifully haunting execution of filmmaking by director John Hillcoat who jumped onto the scene with his Australian western The Proposition in 2005. It’s hard not to notice that this new film encapsulates many facets of the western genre. You have the good guys, father and son bearing the elements traveling south in order to find warmer climate and a sustainable food source. There are the bad guys on the road that steal, kill and resort to cannibalism in order to survive. And then there is the ugly “new” frontier of the ever-deserted country. This may be a little of a stretch, but it is apparent that Hillcoat is comfortable in these dark corners of both the new desolate world and the pain ridden characters.
Throughout the treacherous travels of father and son, we lay witness to flashbacks of a different life before the fall of society. The father, played courageously by Viggo Mortensen, is seen in the flashbacks in a warmer world with his loving wif4e (Charlize Theron), experiencing glimpses of better days. The flashbacks become increasingly horrifying as they catch up with present time, showing the failure of outside life and the ultimate loss of the man’s wife. In these scenes Theron expresses the desperation in her voice that Mortensen conveys with his face and eyes throughout the film. The son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the minimalist combination of the two, shouting out in fear and holding this emotion in his eyes during close-ups. The screenplay is faithfully devoted to the original work and at times can become monotonous, but thanks to great acting the cold, raw environment is not totally dismissive.
This is by far one of the most depressing and engaging films out of all the post-apocalyptic films from this year. You become drawn into the realism of the world with much credit due to the superb somber acting and benefit of shooting on location with minimal post-digital effects. Even though the new frontier is expansive and frightening, the emotional connection to the father shepherding his son against all odds in order to reach a presumed safety is an intimate and rewarding affair. This will be seen as more of an art house film and that’s okay because it is by far the best representation of the end of the world: Cold, dangerous and sometimes kind of tedious.
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