The ongoing collaboration between musician/writer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat spans 14 years. While Hillcoat has made a lot of short films and music videos (including The Bad Seeds’ “Babe I’m on Fire”) his features mostly rely on Cave’s soundtracks and screenwriting. Hillcoat likes humans caked in dirt and bloody sacrificial filmmaking while Cave eschews his angst driven messy rock to fall back on more somber moments allowing haunting melodies, droning violins and piano riffs to enhance our viewing pleasure.
Ghosts… of the Civil Dead (1988)
Produced 14 years ago, this violently poetic Australian flick is about a maximum security lockdown in the middle of nowhere. Both the prisoners and the guards are slowly and deliberately brutalized, manipulated and provoked into violence. Slowly carving out the theme of isolation, Cave also starred in and co-wrote the screenplay with onetime Bad Seed member Hugo Race. All the performances are gut-wrenching, and the soundtrack is a menacing landscape of eerie clanks and minimalistic music accompanied by grunts, hammers, wind noise and bells. Ghosts… is available on DVD in Europe, but has not yet been released in the United States.
The recurring theme between Hillcoat and Cave usually centers on a dark and macabre look at brutal violence. Here they undertake another dismal worldview in The Road, Cormack McCarthy’s (No Country for Old Men) desperately bleak saga of the last men (and women) on earth. This desolate odyssey, which painfully chronicles father (Viggo Mortensen) and son's (Kodi Smit-McPhee) efforts to hold onto their better natures against-all-odds, yields stirring and life-affirming actions. The end of the world might hold nothing but death, destruction and disaster, but Hillcoat paints a powerful almost Zen-like canvas, allowing you to create your own interpretation depending on how much depression you can endure. Music by Cave and Warren Ellis (Grinderman/ Bad Seeds) incorporates tinkling piano and haunting strings to accompany the deadly trek.
Hillcoat mesmerizes with his bleak landscapes and sundried colors making this barren wasteland of the Australian Outback a weird backdrop for this torment-ridden western. His odd choice of camera angles and juxtapositions of shots for violence is like Alfred Hitchcock meets a Spaghetti Western. Scriptwriter Cave has a way of drawing on his infatuation with weird gothic American history. Ray Winstone and Guy Pierce have never been better in this gritty, bloody, flies-buzzing desolate Western about existential and literal redemption.