A local hunter retrieves a grieving lawyer from the brink of death after she retreats to the rugged wilderness of the Rockies.
First Edition: February 12, 2021 (US)
Production company: Great beach
Scenario: Jesse Chatham, Erin Dignam
Producers: Allyn Stewart, Leah Holzer, Lora Kennedy, PeterSaraf
Wright does a lot of character work in the first half hour of the movie, almost without dialogue. The long opening titles show that Edee drives to a remote cabin in the mountains. When she tells the man who escorted her there to come and get the rental car if he can, he suggests it’s safer to have a car here. Edee does not care about safety.
There is a lack of preparation for what lies ahead for Edee, which almost leans towards the flashbacks hinting at her suicidal nature after an undisclosed tragedy. It is as if Edee approves of the earth reclaiming her. She doesn’t know how to hunt or catch; she doesn’t have enough supplies; Winter is coming. If she dies here, so be it. It’s almost like seeing someone slowly drown, hundreds of miles from the ocean.
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Writers Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam keep the details of what drove Edee to a place almost built by Mother Nature to kill her, except for brief flashbacks to a sister named Emma (Kim Dickens) who begged Edee not to commit suicide and a glimpse of a man and a boy, of which it becomes clear that they are the lost family of Edee. At its core, ‘Land’ is a story of unimaginable grief, the kind of pain that reshapes the landscape.
Imagine something so terrible happening to you that the world around you looks very different – why not change your environment so extremely when you move from the city of Chicago to the Rocky Mountains? As an artist, Wright cleverly imbues Edee with what feels almost like constant pain in the first act of the film. It’s such a grim, bleak story that we begin to feel Edee’s non-stop grief in her.
And then “Land” shifts gears with the introduction of a hunter named Miguel (Demián Bichir) and a nurse named Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge). Not only do they save Edee’s life, Miguel becomes an unexpected ally and even teacher. He promises not to tell Edee about the outside world, to maintain her self-isolation, and he doesn’t say much. He’s going to give her the tools to survive, and then be gone. And he himself has some trauma and grief to bring on the hunting trip.
As a director, Wright and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski (“99 Homes”) strike a nice balance between lyrical shots of the beautiful background and close-ups that reveal the trauma of their characters. It is a beautiful film that never loses its sense of danger. There is a recording late in the film where Edee is standing on the edge of a cliff and I was convinced she was going to fall.
“Land” has a finely tuned balance between the beauty of this world and the fact that that beauty hides so many aspects that can kill you, from bears foraging for food to brutal winter snow storms to, yes, cliffs. The montage of Anne McCabe & Mikkel EG Nielsen also deserves praise for striking this balance.
However, “Land” works best as a performance piece for two excellent actors. Wright nails every aspect of this character, especially the way she internalizes her grief and uses that empty pain to force herself to survive. Bichir matches her with a completely different performance that is no less powerful. FilmyOne.com >com
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Neither character gets much to say – and the dialogue is often the weakest aspect of the movie in the sense that it’s a little too unrealistic at times – but it allows Wright and Bichir to do a lot of physical acting. Most importantly, they sell how these two people end up needing each other without resorting to melodrama. They have chemistry as two completely believable, three-dimensional characters unexpectedly sharing the same space.
Some of the final scenes of “Land” feel undeserved, and I found the film to be much more effective in its silence than in its dialogue. A simple recording of a man sitting on a porch with his eyes closed, the sun on his face, can be more powerful than an overwritten monologue.
Tears for Fears’ song ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ becomes a recurring joke in ‘Land’ as Miguel sings it a few times, and it’s tempting to break up the lyrics and how they reflect in the story of the film. .com
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After all, it contains the lines ‘Turn your back to Mother Nature’ and ‘It’s my own design / It’s my own remorse’, both of which can explicitly sound like they are about Edee’s story. However, there is a line in the chorus that is also important to remember when it comes to depression and sadness, emotions that sometimes feel like they will never end: “Nothing ever lasts forever.”
This review was submitted in conjunction with the world premiere at Sundance on January 31st, 2021. It opens in theaters on February 12th, 2021.
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