Dust To Dust
Five things you need to know about… The Michael Shannon cyber Western
IT’S A “WHAT IF” WESTERN
At least climate change is good for something – providing intriguing storytelling inspiration for filmmakers. Take writer/ director Jake Paltrow’s peculiar, sci- fi infused Western, Bad Land: Road To Fury, which shows a future western United States where water is a rare commodity for people like farmer Ernest Holm and his kids. Oddly enough, it’s their reliance on a mechanical robotic horse to survive the elements that proves to be the centrepiece of this pulpy drama. “It all felt like a combination of things we hadn’t seen,” Paltrow tells Red Alert. “The social issues and political background in the movie was what I was interested in, so inserting a classical structure and landscape into this future felt like something I wanted to see myself.”
IS THIS THE REAL LIFE...?
Paltrow’s overall aesthetic is classic Western yet the tech is so futuristic that audiences will often be surprised, which was the director’s objective. “I wanted the film to have a storybook nature to it even though I wanted the performances and the feeling of living in the environment to be naturalistic, I didn’t necessarily want it all to feel real,” he explains. “Trying to find the difference between naturalistic and realistic and getting into the science fiction, I wanted to find a balance.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Despite its low- budget origins, Paltrow’s yarn was strong enough to attract an impressive cast led by former Zod Michael Shannon as the Holm patriarch, with supporting turns by Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning and Kodi Smit- McPhee. Shot in 35 days in South Africa, Paltrow says the cast truly sold his concept. “It was a very good experience with them, as challenging as the environment to make the film was. From my experience with really good actors like we had, they feel what you are trying to accomplish because they can align themselves with it.”
While most of the film takes place in an arid desert, there are some sequences, like when Ernest’s son Jerome ( Smit- McPhee) crosses into another state, where tech is everywhere creating a visceral alternate way of life. “He’s in a world that has regressed terribly in every way,” Paltrow explains of the Holms’ bleak ranch. “Going across the border and seeing that the state next door has an endless water supply created through this fictional atomic process where they are smashing hydrogen and water atoms together in these giant refineries is there to show this is the exact opposite of what the boy is living through.”
A HORSE WITH NO NAME
Ernest is able to exist in the desert because he can transport and trade water with the well drillers via his robotic carrier machine. In essence, it’s just a mechanical beast of burden but it ends up engendering a strange sympathy from the family and audience. “It doesn’t have to be sentient for it to be an emotional experience,” Paltrow smiles. “I like the idea of having something that you are imbuing with all the things you need from it, and you imagine you are getting something back from it in your mind. The thing is blamed for a terrible crime but it can’t speak for itself so there is something beautiful and sad about it.” Bad Land: Road To Fury is in cinemas from 1 May and on DVD/ on demand from 4 May.
The long, sad look of teenagers asked to help out with chores.