It is set some time in the future, but you're not told when. Judging by the cars and locations however it doesn't seem too far off. There has been some sort of apocalyptic event, but you are never shown or told what happened. The end result is most of humanity is dead or dying, all animals and birds etc have perished already, and the skies remain grey with all vegetation gone and trees falling virtually in every scene. A number of humans left have taken to hunting and capturing other survivors for food, having turned to cannibalism.
The story centres around Viggo Mortgenson and his son, who are on a mission to reach the coast in the belief it will be better there. His wife, played by Charlize Theron, has died you assume, having abandoned them early on, and we only get to see her in Viggo's dreams as flash backs.
The main event, as it were, in the original book, focuses on horrific scenes of cannibalism, but in the film the director John Hillcoat decides only to show you either the aftermath, or the events leading up to a potential capture and killing. I for one really enjoyed this approach. It was far more powerful and intelligent than resorting to trying to shock the audience with bloody violent scenes. The film is still shocking though. The desperation, the loneliness, the constant hunger and fear. This is a film, unlike most in it's genre, that you can say that this is how it would probably be if humanity was faced with such a situation. Arguably it still affects you and provokes thought long after you've left the cinema.
I normally find, in most films I see, certain events or dialogue that just don't work. But this film was refreshingingly different. The characters are never identified by name and it is superbly cast, keeping you concentrating on their plight. Viggo and his son are in every scene and you know what he knows. You never see anything he doesn't see. Robert Duvall makes a short appearance as an old man, and I found it difficult to recognise him at first, the makeup and acting was so well done. The film overall is superbly cast, and the sets are incredibly convincing. You sit there wondering where they found all these desolate and devastated locations, believing them all to be real. If this was CGi then it was superbly done.
Horribly credible, chillingly beautiful and wholly uncompromising drama, this depicts pretty much the end of the world for humanity. If you're feeling in a low mood don't go and see this. A feel good movie it is not. However, if you're a fan of realistic and intelligent films where everyone is not saved by saluting Marines at the end, then this is a film you wont want to miss.