Scorched Earth


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Scorched Earth
"Once one strips away its future dystopian trappings, this is a fairly straightforward western."

Although there have been more than 30 Django films to date, with the legendary hero changing size, race and nationality on several occasions, there has never to date been a female Django. When Gage (Gina Carano) rides onto the screen in a wide-brimmed hat, dragging a coffin behind her horse, she's making quite a statement. Naturally, she's a bounty hunter (and there will be several more explicit Django references made later in the film), but this is not the usual North American wasteland. Rather, it's the product of an environmental catastrophe. Gage isn't looking for payment in gold - silver is the new currency, and for a very specific reason.

Silver is a natural antibacterial agent, and although it's not terribly efficient for use in air filters, it's the best the people of this post-Apocalyptic world have got. Without it, they scarcely dare to breathe - though Gage removes her mask for establishing shots and the few outdoor scenes where she's required to emote. More modern technologies are notably absent - people live in wooden buildings almost as crude as their attitude to women, defending themselves with shotguns and, with no sign of agriculture or serious industry, getting by through the barter of resources we can only assume will soon run out. In this context, Gage's nihilistic attitude to life makes complete sense. It's an attitude that changes, however, when she meets the man she believes to be responsible for killing her sister.

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Once one strips away its future dystopian trappings, this is a fairly straightforward western focused on self-denial, revenge and the possibility of redemption. It even has a saloon scene in which the villain's girlfriend Melena (Stephanie Bennett) delivers a song far too good for the rest of the film. Despite the shortage of resources, said villain (Ryan Robbins) doesn't seem to struggle to maintain a small army, and can even afford slaves. Most obnoxiously, and in contravention of an agreement adhered to by pretty much all other survivors, he runs cars. He seems determined to attempt Mad Max bad guy status even in a film built around environmental horror.

This is a plot with some potential. The trouble is that it's the sort of plot that relies heavily on actors - we need to be convinced by their brooding resentment and thirst for justice or power - and, with the exception of John Hannah in a minor role, it doesn't really have them. Carano too often sounds as if she's simply reciting lines that need to carry meaning. Her physical presence is adequate (and doesn't fall short in a role originally written for a man), but she's seriously lacking in depth. Robbins doesn't have much to work with and struggles to make his off-the-shelf macho monster interesting.

The result is a film that plainly falls short of its goals. There's some interesting visual blending of different genre elements but nothing really original nor substantial enough to create a sense of purpose. The story is predictable and often lacks drive. It's far from the worst of its ilk but it just doesn't make much of an impression.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2018
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Scorched Earth packshot
A bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic world encounters the man she believes to have killed her sister.

Director: Peter Howitt

Writer: Kevin Leeson, Bobby Mort

Starring: Gina Carano, John Hannah, Stephanie Bennett

Year: 2018

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Canada, US


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