Bad Land: Road to Fury Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
DVD released by Signature Entertainment
Written and directed by Jake Paltrow
2014, 100 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on May 4th 2015
Michael Shannon as Ernest Holm
Nicholas Hoult as Flem Lever
Elle Fanning as Mary Holm
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jerome Holm
Not to be confused with that other post-apocalyptic Nicholas Hoult movie with 'fury' and 'road' in the title: Bad Land foregoes Mad Max Rockatansky in favour of Michael Shannon (no stranger to madness, if his General Zod or Iceman are anything to go by), playing a recovering alcoholic drying up in a world without water. In that sense, it's more Waterworld than Mad Max, only suffering from the polar opposite of the problem Kevin Costner suffered from in the former. No, not being rubbish, the other problem: lack of water.
Those expecting vehicular carnage or high-octane action from Bad Land will be disappointed. There are barely even any vehicles – let alone cross-desert races or Carmageddon style car porn. While it is very violent at times, the emphasis is more on slow survival than it is warring gangs or bloody retribution. Shannon plays farmer Ernest Holm, struggling to ensure his teenage kids' survival in a world where water is a rarity and everything in it revolves around folks just trying to get a drink. With designs on Ernest's daughter and land, grubby Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult) could bring the stressed dad's world crashing down around him. While Ernest does his best to protect what's his, it could be up to his son Jerome (played so quietly by Kodi Smit-McPhee you might forget he was there) to protect his family and homestead.
Its title and marketing may be cashing in on the much bigger, more well-known Mad Max: Fury Road, but Bad Land (formerly, less derivatively, Young Ones) is far from the Asylum-type rip-off one might expect. The presence of classy actor Michael Shannon at least ensures that, being utterly terrifying even when playing a down-to-Earth dad and farmer. Granted, his dark past at least justifies my being intimidated by the man, even if Hoult is ostensibly the villain of the piece. The About A Boy star is never particularly threatening, but he does a good line in slime, and we can at least savour waiting to see Shannon punch his face in.
A slow, shambling story in three parts (it being split into 'chapters' should tell you what sort of film it is), Bad Land relies more on its setting, atmosphere and restrained use of special effects than it does action or grandeur. It's a lot like Fallout on PS3, actually – there's not much to see and it isn't that technically impressive, but what the filmmakers do show is enough to make it feel real and lived-in. Its use of robotics and future machinery is pretty clever too, in a grimy Star Wars moisture farm kind of way.
It may have the trappings of sci-fi apocalyptica, but Bad Land is a Western, through and through. Those who don't enjoy the genre are unlikely to be won over by Jake Paltrow's own entry, in spite of fine performances from Shannon and Hoult and frequently beautiful cinematography. Bad Land will be completely overshadowed by that other film I keep mentioning, but it doesn't entirely deserve to be. Slow and glacial as it may be, it's classy, intelligent and well-made. The real drought is in story and confidence in marketing the thing.