For all its longevity and tradition, the western is a genre that responds well to reinvention. Daniel Barber’s The Keeping Room (2014), for example, is among the handful to be told from the female experience, while Patrick Hughes’ Red Hill (2010) is one of many to transplant the template to modern times and other countries. And while Chinese-born writer/director Chloe Zhao hasn’t attempted to turn the genre entirely on its head, her sophomore feature The Rider does reshape the traditional cowboy narrative in a way that both embraces and challenges western tropes.
Australian writer-director Zak Hilditch’s apocalyptic vision is striking in its visuals, bold in its bleakness and completely unoriginal in its core narrative. An asteroid strike in the North Atlantic sends a tsunami of unstoppable fire around the world, with Western Australia the last place to be hit. The people of Perth have 12 hours to contemplate their demise and, as the sky turns hotter, lawlessness rapidly descends – with many choosing suicide or the escape of hard drugs, rather than meeting their fate head on.
By filtering the enormity of global catastrophe through the prism of individual survival, writer/director Stephen Fingleton’s remarkable debut effectively imagines the complete breakdown of society into an intense, intimate and brutally realistic character study.