All time favourite wilderness movies (#3 in an occasional series…)

How about a movie recommendation that doesn’t have a holiday theme? Holiday movies can be a bit hit and miss – do you really want another turkey? For the record, I do enjoy “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Die Hard” this time of year. But let’s imagine we’d like a great movie without a holiday connection to enjoy, and allow us to escape – for a little while –  from the festivities. (Not saying you want/need to escape, but just in case…)

A holiday escape? (Alberta Rockies)

This is a great teaser isn’t it? No? I’ve stretched what makes a wilderness movie here, and would like to recommend a movie that at least 15 people, (possibly one to two more), have seen. It really set the box office on fire – not that that is necessarily a sign of quality. The movie? “Slow West” (dir.John Maclean, A24, 2015). Huh? Slow West? Never heard of it! Slow West? That’s a terrible movie title! Yup, probably contributed to a lack of excitement about seeing it. Awful title, marvellous movie. Honestly, that title is by far the worst aspect of the movie.

Slow West – why go fast?

It’s a recent western, and I’m making the argument many westerns are also wilderness movies if the director has taken the time to include interesting outdoor locations. Most westerns include sections set in the big outdoors; I think of them as prototypical road movies, with horses instead of cars. Slow West is no exception, being beautifully shot in what we are informed is Colorado sometime after the Civil War. Big skies, big mountains, rivers, hill country, and grassy plains all figure in the movie. Western staples? You bet! Yet, there is something off kilter about the rugged scenery. It is familiar, though…

Colorado (somewhere near Pagosa Springs)

Turns out the movie was filmed in New Zealand! This explains the familiar unfamiliarity. Or is that the unfamiliar familiarity? I found that to be part of the fun and appeal of the movie, a slight oddness in setting that extends to an oddness in character, story and photography. You know you are watching a western, but with delightfully subtle subversions of the genre. Slow West pays respect to the conventions, then plays with audience expectations, and that was most enjoyable.

Colorado hills

Like many a western predecessor, the plot is slight – a tale of love, revenge, mixed motives, and shady characters encountered on a difficult journey. There is redemption for some, loss for others, and a neat resolution that is not necessarily what you might expect, but makes for a satisfying conclusion.

Colorado sunrise

The acting, particularly of the leads Michael Fassbender (weary gunslinger) and Kodi Smitt-McPhee (an innocent abroad), is strong, and there is a fine assortment of well played characters encountered throughout the movie. The violence is realistic, as expected, but less expected is the way the movie confronts the consequences of violence. This is not a celebration of gunplay – the final shootout is certainly handled carefully, and is also quite unusual. Perhaps that is the real pleasure of this little movie, the quirky and unexpected wrapped up in familiar packaging. Not too bad if you’d like a different movie this holiday season.

Big (Alberta) skies

There are so many great westerns out there! The Searchers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Johnny Guitar, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, any Sam Peckinpah western – these are all favourites of mine. Chances are you’ve seen those, so I chose Slow West instead. Quirky, not turkey. I think it stands up as a decent recent example…

Shot in widescreen cowboyrama

Thanks for taking the time to read this. As ever, please feel free to make a comment or share a story. Were you one of the few to see Slow West? Do you have a favourite (holiday) wilderness or western movie recommendation?  Thanks, pardners, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Looking west

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I am a would be outdoorsman - that is if I had more time, skills and knowledge. When I can, I love being outdoors, just camping, hiking, snowboarding, xc skiing, snowshoeing, paddling a canoe or trying something new. What I lack in ability, I make up for in enthusiasm and having a go. I'd never really survive for long out there in the wild, but I enjoy pretending I could if I had to...

16 thoughts on “All time favourite wilderness movies (#3 in an occasional series…)”

  1. I love the Victorian High Country where the Man from Snowy River was filmed. And last year we camped near Silverton in NSW where Mad Max was filmed. Now that was an outback adventure!


  2. Once again a great post. I may live in Arkansas now, but I grew up in the West. Your photos are fantastic. I may be of the female gender, but I love Cowboy movies as I call them. Believe me I am going to look into “Slow West.” Good job Mr. Plaid Camper.


  3. Anything (ok, almost anything) by John Wayne is at the top of my favorite holiday western movie list. Every year the AMC channel runs a John Wayne marathon on Christmas day and I always hope one of my favorites, Big Jake, Rio Bravo, El Dorado, McLintock!, Rooster Cogburn or the Sons of Katie Elder, will be included in the marathon. Last year around the holidays I made the mistake of seeing The Homesman starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank and afterwards promised myself to stay away from modern westerns at the holidays, but your review and the fact that I am a fan of Michael Fassbender may be enough to convince me to try another new western this year. Wonderful post and photos.


    1. John Wayne western movies are almost always entertaining. Really love your list, and Rio Bravo is probably my favourite you mentioned. Hmm, The Homesman has a good cast, but movies must be entertaining…
      Very happy you enjoyed this post, and I hope you have a great weekend!
      PS Saw Creed last week and we enjoyed it enormously!


  4. “Quirky and unexpected, on widescreen cowboyrama” surely sounds enticing to one who doesn’t often go out of his way to see a western flick. Thanks for bringing my attention to this movie. I’ll try to look it up soon!


    1. They should have written that on the poster! If you like genre movies that mess with the conventions (respectfully), then you might enjoy this one.
      Have a wonderful weekend – made it to the end of term!


  5. Such an interesting post integrating movie conversations with gorgeous western scenes. I will make it a point to see Slow West, pc, thanks for the recommendation. You are the only person (besides myself) that I have ever known who liked both “It’s a Wonderful World” and “Die Hard.” On top of that, you are the only person (besides myself) who I have ever known to think of “Die Hard” as a Christmas movie. Throw in “Bad Santa” and we’re practically twins. lol. Great post, as always. 🙂


    1. The Alberta photographs were taken in mid October from a range road running parallel to the Rockies. It was a beautiful morning, and I couldn’t resist the fences and long views!
      Nothing says holiday season like Die Hard…and we are twins, because Bad Santa is up there (I’ll be watching it sometime this coming week), and Billy Bob got it right in this one!
      Thanks, Jet, and have a great weekend!


    1. The Edge is a fun movie! Anthony Hopkins chewing the scenery, and a bear chewing the actors – much of it filmed around Canmore. If only they’d had a map, they’d have been safe and sound with coffee and Timbits!
      Hope your weekend is going well!


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