Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated PG-13, 88 minutes
Directed by: Robin Wright
LAND is a film that genuinely understands the horrible, heart-wrenching complexities, depressive toxicity and shifting relationship dynamics that accompany grief. Director Robin Wright’s directorial debut is centered on a woman who, deep in the all-encompassing throes of sorrow, chooses to isolate herself in the Wyoming wilderness on what some worry will be a suicide mission. It plays as both a female-driven survivalist drama and, buried deeper in hidden corners of the subtext, an allegorical odyssey representing a female filmmaker attempting to make an emotionally propulsive, refined film. A compelling, compassionate character-study, the journey taken within is a life-affirming one.
Edee (Wright) has been seeing a therapist at her sister Emma’s (Kim Dickens’) urging, but it’s been of little help. She typically stares at the hourglass waiting for the sand to run through. It’s her final session as she’s planning to make a bold move, packing up her place in Chicago, setting out for a remote cabin off the grid on the outskirts of Quincy, Wyoming. She’s abandoned most everything, including ditching her cell phone. She even asks a local to rid her of her rental car and U-Haul, leaving her essentially stranded and potentially compromised if an emergency should arise. Her only exceptions are necessities like canned goods and one lone shoebox containing her most personal possessions.
The key to empathizing with this character is how Wright in her dual role as actress and director, along with screenwriters Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam, brilliantly and economically elucidates the mystery surrounding Edee’s current plight. Clues about how and why she became traumatized are peppered throughout the picture. We gather through beautifully lit, poetic flashbacks featuring her husband and young son that she’s suffering from a devastating loss involving them. It’s not so much a suicide mission she’s on, as some in the film worry, but rather one of personal catharsis. She needs to isolate in order to survive and return to peace again. Her adventure may, at first, seem foolhardy as she struggles with pioneer life. She faces a ton of adversity from mother nature that manifests in a destructive visit from a big black bear. But she also experiences physical and psychological rescue through the kindness of strangers Miguel (Demián Bichir) and Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), who are also no strangers to sorrow, anxiety and guilt.
Wright’s film not only finds great success in its endearing exchanges between Miguel and Edee, which blessedly remain platonic, but in its dialogue-free moments capturing the characters’ psyches. It’s hard not to feel moved by the fact that these are two characters tied together through their unimaginable, at times unspoken, woes. Composers Ben Sollee and Time for Three’s melancholic guitar and string score serves to fill in the quieter moments without drawing attention to itself. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski captures the gorgeous mountain vistas with poetic grace and vibrancy. He reveals a subtle but clear aesthetic change between the cool color palette of the city and warm country life. He also augments the visual juxtaposition between Edee’s harsh circumstances and the allure of the wild.
Wright has a knack for bringing out the unspoken qualities that bind these characters and their circumstances. Her heartening, wholly cinematic venture stands as a stirring testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
LAND premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 31. It opens in theaters on February 12.