Awash in reveries of outlaw fame, tabloid romance, and futures that either never could or would be, Badlands exists in a hypnotic dream-state of young love and murder. When garbage man Kit (Martin Sheen) meets teenage baton-twirler Holly (Sissy Spacek), it’s an instantaneous marriage of likeminded deluded souls. With Kit driven by psychopathic notions of Bonnie and Clyde-style lawbreaking, and Holly guided by unhinged fantasies of amour-fou, their bond is epitomized by an early sequence in which she reflects, with bemused apathy, on killing her catfish while writer/director Terrence Malick depicts not only that indifferent murder but also Kit kicking and walking on top of a dead cow. Based loosely on real-life criminals Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, Malick’s 1973 debut about Kit and Holly’s 1950s rampage through the Dakota badlands remains a disturbingly lyrical character study of pitiless bandits, one infused with an unreal atmosphere of desire, derangement and ruthlessness. As Kit guns down virtually everyone he encounters and Holly tags along with apparent indifference to his crimes – even the unjustifiable execution of her dog-shooting father (Warren Oates) – Malick’s film, full of striking cutaways to the burning-sun horizon and the harsh landscape’s solitary creatures, comes to operate at an overpoweringly chilling remove. That hallucinatory detachment lends the proceedings a sense of gazing at reckless, dangerous kids as if through a microscope, their actions those of overgrown children existing in a Saturday matinee fairy tale – as when they build and reside in a forest treehouse – and sleepwalking their way to the electric chair and points beyond. From the unsettling use of Carl Orff’s classical Schulwerk to the haunting contrapuntal narration, Malick’s control of his material is masterful, while Sheen’s pitiless Kit – emboldened by physical comparisons to James Dean – proves a precursor to our sensationalistic celebrity age and Spacek’s Holly proves to be something even more disquieting: a vision of cold, alluring, pubescent amorality.