After seeing Hillcoat’s godawful (but good) The Proposition, similarly soundtracked by my secret boyfriend Nick Cave and walking beard Warren Ellis, I was expecting this movie to pull no punches, horrify me, be good, and unbearable for repeat viewings. Maybe it was the fact that I’d just read the book and experienced the horror in my imagination—much of the book is implied horror instead of actual horror, though there’s plenty of that too—but the movie wasn’t as horrifying as I expected. Some of the remnants of the post-apocalyptic civilisation are turning to cannibalism, and you see it in dark shadows, wailing voices, and the occasional desiccated human. It should be the stuff of nightmares, making me shriek and bury my head in my beloved’s manly chest, but I kind of sighed and thought that the half-chewed humans all looked a little like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and couldn’t quite bring myself to be convinced. As is with the book, the movie is so even-toned, through all that goes on, that it can numb you to the appalling scenes so instead of screams and tears you just say “oh” and look a bit sad. Again, shocking to all known to me, I didn’t cry in the final scenes. And believe me, I was trying to squeeze those tears out.
Viggo Mortenson continues his trend of not being pin-up material and is starved and haggard as the movie’s unnamed protagonist. He sported a terrible moustache in the flashback scenes that made me doubt he was a character I could relate to, and despite his efforts at being a supportive and educational father he is a terrifying character, barely balancing along the line of good and evil. Kodi Smit-McPhee, as his son, is just fine. He adopts a mostly vacant stare but I am not sure if it’s just how you would be in such a grey and awful world. Top-billed actors Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce (sporting the worst wig in the history of film and pretty much phoning it in) are only in the movie for a minute or two, as is far-too-beautiful Charlize Theron. Missing are a few extra people that belonged in scenes of horror that, while grotesque, might have packed the punch I was expecting and added depth to the horrors they were avoiding. Added are an entire forty seconds of unexpected new footage that got me briefly thrilled and then let me down again as it barrelled straight into the next, unbearably familiar scene.
The cinematography is excellent, and the world is exactly how you would imagine it: unerringly grey, dismal, quiet. It is portrayed in the book as unbearably cold yet I missed it in the movie; not enough (or any) snow, not enough chattering of teeth and knocking of knees a la Warner Bros, perhaps.
Frankly, it is too hard for me to be subjective about this movie because I had read the book so recently and it held so absolutely close to the book that I just felt I was rereading it. It could be an excellent movie. I regret reading the book so soon before seeing it; I wish now I’d watched the movie first and saved the book for later. As it is, all I can say is: he didn’t let McCarthy down, and I now understand why other directors are so keen to change things around. Because using the novel as a script doesn’t always lead you to explore new ground, apart from what Viggo’s bottom looks like after he’s gone hungry for months. And it’s not pretty.