Zac Efron sizzles in the desert in Stan's dystopian thriller Gold

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Streamer: Selected cinemas now / Stan from Jan 26

Length: 97 minutes

Score: 4/5

What would you give to improve your lot in life? What acts would you perform, what taboos would you break? And, perhaps more importantly, what kind of person would you be at the end of it all?

And would it be worth it?

These are the lofty questions sitting at the heart of Gold, a brand new Aussie-made thriller from Stan that simmers with menace and a worldview as pitiless and black as night time in the desert.

Man One (Zac Efron) in Gold on Stan
Man One (Zac Efron) faces a grim and unrelenting future in Gold. Picture: Stan

Gold takes place at some nebulous future point in humanity’s history and things are looking bleak. Wars, poverty, starvation, and greed have reduced us to a state of decay, desperate and distrustful.

Basically, Penrith Macca’s carpark at 3am except on a global scale.

A bloke known simply as Man One (played by an almost unrecognisable Zac Efron) is a lonely soul looking for a chance to better his life. He’s travelling across the desert, driven by Man Two (Anthony Hayes), following an unlikely dream.

However, the car breaks down and the pair chance upon a gold nugget. Actually, “nugget” doesn’t quite do it justice. This is a gold boulder! Surely worth enough dosh to make them both very rich men indeed.

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The problem is, the damn thing’s too big to fit in the car. So, one of the blokes needs to head into town, grab some earth moving equipment and come back. And the other bloke?

He’ll need to stay with the gold. Alone in the desert. At the mercy of whatever comes along.

Anthony Hayes and Zac Efron in gold on Stan
Man Two (Anthony Hayes) and Man One (Zac Efron) find an embarrassment of riches in the desert. But what to do with it all? Picture: Stan

It’s a neat hook for a low-fi sci-fi thriller, although one that depends heavily on the quality of the lead actor involved.

Happily, in the case of Zac Efron, this proves to be a wise choice, albeit a surprising one. Efron seems very keen to shake his pretty boy image and inhabits the role of Man One as a desperate and hungry soul, willing to risk everything for even a slender chance at happiness.

Certainly Efron has played against type before when he appeared as serial killer Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, however he was a charming monster in that flick. In Gold he’s pure need and desperation, a frayed man at the edge of his humanity.

And, honestly, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the bloke.

This is just as well, because for the majority of Gold’s 97-minute runtime, you’ll be watching this man alone in the desert, slowly running out of food and water and going insane by increments.

Will he succumb to the harsh elements, the feral dogs that prowl at night or perhaps a wandering intruder will take his gold and then his life. And honestly, can he really trust Man Two at all?

Zac Efron in the desert for gold movie
Man One (Zac Efron) prepares for a long, scary night in Gold. Even worse? No telly! Picture: Stan.

Gold can be, at times, a brutal and unrelenting film. It has a streak of nihilism at its core and certainly isn’t a feel-good romp.

However, thanks to a stunning lead performance from Zac Efron and spare, razor sharp direction from Anthony Hayes, it’s an utterly compelling one that holds you in its grim and dirty claws for the duration.

The support cast including Hayes himself and Susie Porter are also superb, and the score by Antony Partos really sells the bleak and desolate imagery throughout.

Is it a cautionary tale of the addictive nature of greed? A dark rumination on the essentially corrupt soul of mankind? Or just a single location thriller set in a sun-scorched dystopia? Honestly, that’s a matter for you to ponder.

What we can confirm, however, is that Gold is an Aussie gem, rich in subtext and uncompromising in delivery. And if you can handle a yarn told from the darker side of the street? It’s well worth digging up.

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