ABANDON hope, all ye who enter here. The future isn't bright, not in the slightest, in John Hillcoat's Oscar-tipped, post-apocalyptic thriller, adapted by Joe Penhall from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote No Country For Old Men.
Hillcoat shoots everything through a grimy, colour-bleached lens and when misery is poured upon the characters' heads, the consequences are chilling and often gruesome.
To offset the relentless doom and gloom, the film clings onto any scraps of sentimentality and engineers as much of an upbeat, life-affirming resolution as it dares, which slightly cheapens the horrific ordeal of the central duo in this unspecified near future.
The emotional weight of the film rests almost entirely on the shoulders of a gruff and heavily bearded Viggo Mortensen and Australian child star Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Cast as father and son in a desolate landscape littered with unspoken dangers, the two actors create a believable on-screen dynamic that holds our attention.
Director Hillcoat opens with a flashback, introducing an unnamed husband (Mortensen) and wife (Theron), two survivors of a terrible disaster.
She is pregnant with their son and is reluctant to bring a child into a world without hope, where humanity has turned against itself.
“There has been cannibalism. Cannibalism is the great fear,” the man tells us in voiceover.
Having given birth to their child, the mother eventually abandons her husband, walking into the darkness to her grim fate.
Years pass and supplies of fuel, food and water are almost entirely depleted, forcing those that remain onto the road.
The man and his 10-year-old boy (Smit-McPhee) try to stay out of plain sight, wary of the survivors who now band together and hunt down stragglers as food.
The father's only means of protection is a gun and two bullets: one for himself and one for his boy.
The Road is unremittingly downbeat, bolstered by terrific performances from Mortensen and Smit-McPhee, especially in the quieter moments when they wrestle with their terrible dilemma.
Aside from the flashbacks, there are brief interludes with a gang member (Dillahunt) and an old man (Duvall), whose sorry plight drives a wedge between father and son.
Hillcoat orchestrates some edge-of-seat set pieces like when the man and boy seek refuge in an old house and discover why the door to the basement is locked.
It’s not a road movie you’ll forget in a hurry.