I walked into the Avon expecting to see indie-er version of True Grit. Instead, I was taken along an absurd 84-minute adventure through director John Maclean’s surreal vision of the American West.
Slow West follows the hapless journey of Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young Scotsman making his way across the frontier in pursuit of unrequited love. In the opening scene, Silas (Michael Fassbender), a rugged and mysterious outlaw, saves Jay from bandits and offers to chaperone him for the rest of his journey in exchange for money. As they ride on, they are pursued by a hodgepodge group of bounty-hunters, and Silas’s true motive for accompanying Jay is revealed.
The film is a parody of a western movie with an interesting twist, since the main character is European. Some scenes are cliché to the point of hilarity, while others are punctuated by dark humor that leaves the audience chuckling in the wake of extreme misfortune.
However, it would be wrong to label Slow West as a comedy. Death and violence in the movie come out of desperation. In one scene, Silas shoots an immigrant mother who attempts to rob a general store with her husband. As Silas leaves, two young freshly-orphaned children are seen waiting outside, utterly helpless.
Unlike traditional westerns, most characters in Slow West are immigrants. The frontier provides a means of escape for some, and a promise of hope for others; yet the cheap price of life ensures that nobody gets what they came for.
The movie almost looks like it’s meant for 3-D. Something about the cinematography—the wide-angle shots of untamed forests, empty valleys, and jagged mountains—give the movie a feeling that it takes place on another planet, uncontaminated by humanity. A feeling that made a lot more sense when I found out it was filmed in New Zealand.
Although I was slightly confused throughout the duration of the film and covered my eyes during several scenes towards the end, I walked out of the theatre captivated, my mind toying with every possible metaphor I could think of. In other words—I’m happy I skipped my intramural frisbee game to see this.