One of the more intriguing indie sci-fi movies to tease the horizon and then quietly vanish, Jake Paltrow (as in ‘Brother of Gwyneth’)’s Young Ones – starring Boardwalk Empire and Man Of Steel‘s square-jawed sociopath Michael Shannon, X-Men‘s Nicholas Hoult, Let The Right One In‘s Kodi Smit-McPhee and Maleficent‘s Elle Fanning – has resurfaced at terrible cost, the truly cynical and largely misleading new title Bad Land: Road To Fury.
It is indeed a ‘bad land’, but hinging the whole thing on Nicholas Hoult’s forthcoming role as a screeching nut behind the wheel in Mad Max: Fury Road suggests a profound lack of confidence in a movie that from the off sets itself out as something far more considered.
Reminiscent of the sun-bleached earthbound prologue to Interstellar, Young Ones – as we’ll insist on calling it – shows an ecologically collapsed world having failed backward into the Old West tropes that gave us Mad Max in the first place, but rather than squealing tires and bondage gear, this is a Dust Bowl slowburn, a Frankensteinbeck mix of Depression-era family tragedy and post-apocalyptic revenge drama.
The original title is a reference to the core trio, Smit-McPhee’s sullen brother and POV character Jerome Holm, Fanning’s dutiful sister Mary Holm, and Hoult’s smirking rogue Flem Lever, and the youth they’re denied in the harsh, arid landscape that they’re prepared to kill – and die – for the dubious privilege of calling their own.
There’s an ethereal sense of Seventies New Wave to Young Ones – all sweeping vistas, thoughtful silence, clumsy crossfades and overwrought symphonic score – and in lieu of a independent narrative around which all events orbit, there’s a lot of acting going on. Luckily for Paltrow, the mere business of getting a bunch of talented rising stars to act at each other seems to provide just enough perpetual motion to keep the whole show trundling onward.
Shannon is great as stern blue-collar patriarch Ernest Holm, and Hoult puts in a career best as the oily Lever, McPhee and Fanning fare less well, the former turning in his signature performance of ‘witnessing things that happen with red-rimmed eyes’ and the latter mostly sulking, but its a tight ensemble.
The design of the world is as gorgeous as its cinematography. There’s an echo of Looper‘s retro-futurism in its robotic beast of burden, shipping container farmstead and crop-dusting drones, but so little actually happens that it all feels wasted, like some contrived show home in frontier chic that nobody actually lives in.