Before we start, let’s talk about that title. The film was released under the name “Young Ones” in the United States, but here in Britain, we have the Bad Land title. There are many reasons for a name change and there are several for this. One, “Bad Land” is obviously higher up the alphabet than “Young Ones”, so that may help its alphabetical ranking on VOD services. Two, it could be a rights issue in this country, but I doubt it. The third is the most plausible and it’s a crappy decision. Both the name and the cover are clearly trying to ape the forthcoming Mad Max: Fury Road, in which Nicholas Hoult also stars. I can’t imagine the cover fooling many people into a blind buy and I feel it sells the film short. It makes it look like an Asylum rip-off and it’s got more to offer than a cheap cash-in. Now that’s out of the way, the actual film.
Bad Land takes place in a post-apocalyptic America. A massive drought has parched the land and made water a hugely important and valuable commodity. Father Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) has stubbornly stayed on his farm, believing that the rains will come again and save his livelihood. He lives with his son, Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and daughter Mary (Elle Fanning). Ernest makes ends meet by delivering supplies to the government contracted water men who extract water from deep wells. Times get tougher for the Holms and Ernest has to go deeper into debt to purchase a robotic carrier referred to as “Sim” to replace his mule. Holm also has to worry about Mary who has been secretly seeing Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult), a young man with more than a bit of a tearaway quality to him.
I was initially impressed with Bad Land. The film really conveys the struggles of living in an arid dustbowl and the interactions between the characters build up a clear picture of the world they inhabit. Michael Shannon plays Ernest with an effortless world-weariness. He reminded me of William Munny from Unforgiven. All the cast are great, in fact. Hoult is a fine actor who can play sleazy bastards in his sleep. Elle Fanning is always impressive and Kodi Smit-McPhee is solid. The trouble is that the film doesn’t really give them space to explore these roles. Shannon is a standard stoic dad with past drinking problems. Smit-McPhee is the sensitive son who draws pictures. Fanning is the teenage daughter who is rebelling. I’d be fine with these drag-and-drop characters if they were serving the narrative, but the film thinks it’s more of a character study. I finished watching the film about half an hour before starting this review and I would struggle to tell you what happened chronologically. Plot is driving the characters, not the other way around, which makes everyone seem passive. The film does manage to turn things around occasionally, but lack of investment made it hard to appreciate what it was doing.
Writer/Director Jake Paltrow opts to split the film into three chapters, focusing on a different character in a Tarantino-esque way, but it only serves to highlight how shallow the characters actually are. This is a minor point, but I also had a problem with the on-screen titles, especially the end credits. The credits consist of the actor in question standing in front of some brown curtain with a caption like “Michael Shannon played Ernest Holm”.
Trouble is that the font colour is a solid black, making it hard to read against darker clothing. Yeah, this is really nitpicky, but it is an issue throughout the film. Even the most basic YouTuber or video editor knows that black text can be hard to make out on darker backgrounds. They strike me as last-minute additions, but Jesus, I don’t know how you direct a film that looks as great as Bad Land manages to and make such a basic error. Even I could do a better job given an hour on Sony Vegas or After Effects.
The film is shot well. The cinematography can be beautiful at times, reminding me of the gorgeous ugliness of the Fallout games. It can also feel a bit juvenile. I hope you like extreme close-ups that slowly pan out to a reveal, like the beginning of a Rugrats episode, because you’re going to get a lot of them. The film is obviously on the lower end of the budget scale, but it uses its sparse visual effects decently, especially the ones used to bring Sim to life.
Bad Land: Road to Fury is an odd beast. It wears its influences on its sleeve, but can’t stitch together a particularly compelling plot. The story is a simple one, overcrowded by needless complications that do nothing but muddy up what should be an involving narrative about murder and revenge. That’s not to say the film isn’t without its charms, but I found the plot a bit too dreary to be able to recommend it to too many people.
Genre; sci-fi, drama Distributor: Signature Entertainment Rating: 15 DVD Release Date:4th May 2015 (UK) Director:Jake Paltrow Cast:Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Shannon, Elle Fanning Buy:Bad Land: Road To Fury [Blu-ray]