Badlands is Terrence Malick’s 1973 directorial debut, based on a true story about a pair of teenage serial killers in love, back in the late 50s. Actually, Martin Sheen’s character does all of the killing, so it’s more “A serial killer and his younger lover who watches nonchalantly, and is mostly just along for the ride.” But that description doesn’t slip off the tongue real nice, and then they can't fit in the Bonnie and Clyde genre, so "a pair of serial killers" tends to be the popular description for this movie. Whatever works.
Kit and Holly are in love, but they've got a 10 year age difference, and a over-protective father keeping them apart. After Holly's father decrees that Holly and Kit cannot be together any longer, Kit kills him. They burn the house down and feign suicide, to go off and live in the forest. Their plan works for a while, but eventually they're tracked down by bounty hunters. Escaping from such situations requires a bit of killing, so they go from being murders to spree killers, celebrities on the run. They attempt to reach the badlands of Montana, and escape to Canada.
Child and teenage performances can make or break films, Sissy Spacek really makes the film. I don’t know how long teenage Sissy Spacek must’ve had to study to act bored, but I’m sure it was a long time. We all know that teenagers just aren't good at acting bored, but Spacek is a welcomed exception.
Her character, Holly (AKA 'Red', 'Tex'), probably says more in voice-over than in actual dialogue in the movie. And her narrative comments most of the time aren't the insightful gems that you'll find in The Thin Red Line and Days of Heaven (Director Terrence Malick's other two movies). She talks like a teenager, and not a particularly smart one (smart people don't tend to hang around serial killers). She's not a genius, and she doesn't think like a genius.
Spacek wasn’t the only actor keeping this film alive and well. Martin Sheen plays Kit, the dumb (but not too dumb), psychopathic (but not too psychopathic) 25 year old ex-garbage man who looks like James Dean. Just like Dean, he's a rebel without a cause. Unlike Dean, he kills a lot of people. And remember, this was made in the early 70s, decades before his stint in the White House, so Martin Sheen actually looks like a cross between Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez.
Badlands is a great piece of filmmaking, from the independent film era of the 70s. Malick would top himself in the future, but this is still something not to be missed.
And the cherry on top is that it was based on a true story, the Charles Starkweather-Caril Ann Fugate spree killings in 1958 Nebraska. Crazy kids.