There’s nothing quite so chilling in cinema as mundane violence; violence matched for shock only by the perpetrators – and frame – demonstrating a grim indifference to it. It's a tactic employed extremely well by Australian filmmakers, with Andrew Dominik’s Chopper, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown and David Michôd’s own Animal Kingdom standing out as recent examples where the banal acceptance of death and suffering has evoked real horror better than any cheap directorial pyrotechnics ever could.
The Rover, Michôd’s follow-up to his 2010 family crime saga debut, takes this nihilism to something approaching a conclusion: a minimalist, end of civilisation Western of overwhelming menace pockmarked with sporadic brutality. Set in the Outback ten years after an undefined “collapse,” the stripped-down narrative sees grizzled survivor Eric (Pearce) chase across country a band of crooks, led by Scoot McNairy’s Henry, who stole his car. Teaming up with Henry’s simpleton brother Rey (Pattinson), whom the gang have left for dead after a robbery, Eric’s desperation to retrieve the vehicle – desperation for a quest of any kind – consumes him.
Michôd makes brilliant use of the stark, dusty, sweaty surroundings to create palpable discomfort, which is complemented by his juxtaposition of a rogue's gallery of simply appalling characters framed in striking, beautiful cinematography. And when the oppressive despair and pointlessness gets too much, there is the briefest flicker of humanity in Pattinson’s (slightly too ticky) performance as the tragic Rey to cling on to as Pearce’s mesmeric, terrifying Eric trudges towards his White Whale. It might not amount to much in the end, but that’s kind of what Michôd is going for, and he’s created a haunting, morally difficult journey to get you there.