By Nick L’Barrow
Set in a nameless location, led by a nameless protagonist, and taking place during an unknown time in the near future, Gold is a drama/thriller shrouded in ambiguity and filled to the brim with tension.
The Stan Original film was shot in the desolate South Australian desert, doubling as the baron, unidentified wasteland that this film is set. Isolated in this desert is Zac Efron, simply credited as Man One, who after hitching a ride with Man Two (Anthony Hayes, also the films co-writer and director), happens across the largest nugget of gold seen in decades, far too large for the two to simply pull it out of the ground. Deciding that the two men will attempt to excavate and split the gold between them, Man Two sets off to acquire the necessary equipment needed to obtain their newfound treasure, leaving Man One behind to keep watch over the gold.
Opting for a muted, almost colourless pallet, director Anthony Hayes has visually created a truly bleak atmosphere in Gold. While his cinematography is sharp and captures the landscape in an awe-inducing fashion, the blandness of the never-ending desert plain really hammers home the almost post-apocalyptic tone of the film. The only sets on display being a small, shipping container-based town where the film begins, and the wreckage of a small aeroplane that provides shelter for the disheveled Man One only exacerbate the isolation on a physical level. However, Gold’s true core explores the power of greed and how far it can push someone to protect what they put their value in… in this case, the golden nugget.
For the majority of the runtime, the camera focuses solely on Efron’s character. The mystery surrounding Man One only increases as the film goes on. Even when pressed with questions from other characters in the film, Man One chooses minimally worded responses that do not lend much insight into his backstory, carefully choosing what information he releases, showing barely any emotion. However, his quiet demeanor is the foundation for a character arc that starts as stoicism, and slowly unravels into insanity as his situation becomes dire as the days pass by. The priority of protecting the gold constantly under threat by rabid dogs who stalk throughout the night, the uncertainty of whether Man Two will return as he said he would, and the arrival of a lone wondered with pressing questions about Man One’s situation. The ever looming and constant threats create an ample amount of tension throughout, only to be topped with Efron’s convincing portrayal of a mind slowly losing grip and a body struggling to survive the harsh wilderness around it.
Gold’s only hindrance is its pace. The story itself does feel familiar within a ‘dystopian’ genre, and that is not a bad thing because it still manages to feel tense in many moments, however the over-arching story and predictable scenarios have a generic feel to them that at times, along with it’s bleak atmosphere and tone, can feel like it’s dragging along, even at 95 minutes long.
Overall, Gold succeeds in allowing Zac Efron to showcase a side of his acting that audiences haven’t seen before, which adds a fresh, exciting feeling to a film where it’s predictability and bleak tone do hinder its overall enjoyment factor.
Gold is available to stream in Australia on Stan, January 26.
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