Who doesn’t love a nasty genre thriller where a man in the desert has to fend off wild dogs that want to rip out his liver? Especially when that man is played by handsome American Zac Efron, sitting on top of a large, immovable lump of gold. Delicious.
The film was shot in northern South Australia around Leigh Creek, but the Arabic signs suggest we’re somewhere in the ‘stans, after an apocalyptic event. Efron, as a man with no name, limps into a mousetrap, heading east. Anthony Hayes, also never named, arrives to transport him to a mining camp. After a couple of days, Efron finds a lump of gold sticking out of the desert, just like that. It’s too big to move. One must stay and stand guard while the other goes for a bulldozer.
It’s a classic setting, from a script co-written by Hayes and his partner, Polly Smyth. I kept thinking about Sierra Madre Treasure and “we don’t need stinky badges.”
Hayes gives us no backstory, no details that could count as exposition. This is hell and they have found a way to heaven, if they can survive the scorpions, the dogs, the thirst and their own greedy instincts. Susie Porter plays a third character: the less said about her role, the better. Porter is excellent as always.
Why not put it in Australia? Hayes, acting and directing, adopts a fairly common Southern accent that doesn’t help his character’s credibility. If he had stayed quiet, the film would have been stronger, although it is very much the image of Efron. He occupies the screen alone, below the hardened desert ground, for most of the duration. It’s easy to see the attraction: it’s an actor’s dream. He does a professional job if a bit self-conscious.
One problem could be that this Yankee is dumber than a box of rocks in this setting, wasting water and doing things he was specifically told not to do, but that’s how the genre works. “If you go down there, you will die”, so the character starts up there. That’s also part of the joy of the genre: we get to explore human stupidity from a safe distance and find out what we would have done.