'Gold' review: an impressive Zac Efron shines in new survival thriller

Set in a dystopian near-future where society has collapsed, the actor plays an unnamed man who travels across the desert with a stranger

A still from the movie 'Gold' starring Zac Efron. Photo: Madman Entertainment
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Zac Efron’s career has unfolded in a somewhat unusual manner. After rising to prominence with the High School Musical trilogy, the incredibly handsome and effortlessly charming actor looked all set to become one of the most popular stars in Hollywood.

Despite appearances in the likes of Hairspray, 17 Again, Neighbours and The Greatest Showman, that never quite materialised. Efron has still impressed whenever he’s been on-screen, and he even recently won a Daytime Emmy Award for his Netflix documentary Down To Earth with Zac Efron.

Gold is yet further proof of just how magnetic Efron can be. Set in a dystopian near-future where society has collapsed and the environment is in chaos, Efron plays an unnamed man who travels across the desert with another stranger, portrayed by the film’s co-writer, director and producer, Anthony Hayes.

When their vehicle breaks down, Efron stumbles upon a large golden nugget hidden in the sand. Soon the pair start to dream of the huge wealth that’s destined to come their way. In order to excavate the gold, though, Hayes has to travel two days back to get the necessary equipment, leaving Efron alone to contend with the heat, various passers-by, and several ravenous wild dogs that have started to circle him.


Director:Anthony Hayes

Stars:Zaf Efron, Anthony Hayes


Gold is ultimately a very simple, but effective survival thriller. Alongside his co-writer Polly Smith, Hayes doesn’t waste time explaining how the planet fell into disarray. Instead, he focuses on establishing the world and then slowly building up the conflict. First between the two protagonists, before then examining Efron character’s personal turmoil.

Over the course of the opening 30 minutes of Gold, Hayes and Efron do a superb job of injecting tension into scenes that could easily feel too forced or dull if handled poorly. Efron gives a much more nuanced performance than we’re used to seeing from him, too. Usually, he relies on his comedic timing to impress, but he’s monosyllabic nearly all the way through.

In fact, Efron is pretty much unrecognisable in Gold, as the make-up department also do an impressive job creating numerous scars and patches of damaged skin, which only become more grotesque the longer Efron stays under the blazing hot sun.

A still from the 2022 movie 'Gold' starring Zac Efron. Photo: Madman Entertainment

After solidly laying down the foundations of the film, Gold’s biggest test arrives when Efron is left alone on-screen to carry the movie by himself. Despite not saying and actually doing all that much, Efron’s subtle portrayal, and the way that he patiently builds up his internal struggle, makes Gold all the more engrossing.

Hayes also directs in a confident and straight-forward manner. He knows when to inject violence and always makes sure that the set-pieces are tense. Which is no mean feat when you consider the sparse conditions of the setting.

He also collaborates well with his cinematographer Ross Giardina, as the pair find beauty amid the desolate landscape, to create a foreboding atmosphere, while they even manage to make the searing heat feel palpable through the screen. Antony Partos’s poignant but powerful score also deserves special praise.

But while Gold is engaging enough, it never manages to become genuinely riveting. Not only does it feel too similar to other one-man thrillers of recent years, such as All Is Lost, Moon, Locke and Buried, its third act falls flat. Although its gut-punching denouement does deliver.

Gold is still an achievement for all involved, though, as well a timely reminder of Efron’s on-screen prowess.

Gold is out in UAE cinemas on February 17

Updated: February 18, 2022, 6:10 AM

Director:Anthony Hayes

Stars:Zaf Efron, Anthony Hayes