Land (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Alone in the middle of the wilderness

“Land”, the first feature film directed by Robin Wright, is simple and modest in terms of story and characters. Mostly isolated along with its grieving heroine in its small rural background, the movie sensitively depicts her lonely and difficult emotional journey, and the overall result is predictable but more heartfelt than we expect at the beginning.

In the beginning, the movie calmly observes its heroine making a drastic choice on her current life. Although nothing much is told or revealed to us around that narrative point, it is quite apparent to us that Edee, played by Wright herself, is going through a very difficult time after an unspecified devastating incident, and even her younger sister’s sincere care and support do not help her much as shown from their brief but eventually painful conversation scene. In the end, she decides to walk away from everything in her life once for all, and we subsequently see her arriving alone in some remote mountainous spot located somewhere in the middle of Wyoming.

The spot in question has a small and shabby cabin which has been empty and abandoned since its owner’s death, and Edee already purchased it shortly before her arrival. Determined to be isolated from the world outside, Edee later has her vehicle removed from her new place to stay, and she feels a little better than before as totally disconnected from things reminding of her loss every day. Despite having a handbook for hunt and survival in the wilderness, she is understandably quite clumsy as an inexperienced beginner, but she expects that she will soon get more skilled than before, and we observe her making few forward steps in her self-sustaining status.

Not so surprisingly, living alone in the middle of wilderness turns out to be much more challenging that she thought. Every night, Edee often hears the howling sounds of wild animals living out there, and they certainly disturb her a lot. As winter is inevitably coming, she comes to experience how harsh and dangerous the wilderness can be, and there is a little tense scene where she suddenly faces a terrifying moment of peril due to the appearance of one big hungry predator.

While she manages to survive this very dangerous moment, Edee is at a loss as discovering that she has lost most of her stored food, and what follows next is a series of desperate moments showing her increasingly hopeless attempts for survival. At one point, she tries to shoot a dear for getting meat to eat, but she cannot help but hesitate, and that leads to more horror and desperation for her while her small private world crumbles more under the unforgiving coldness of a raging blizzard.

Fortunately, as Edee is nearly about to give up under a very critical medical condition, there comes an unexpected help from Miguel (Demián Bichir), a local hunter who previously happened to notice Edee’s presence in the cabin. Once he sees how serious her circumstance is, Miguel instantly calls someone to help her along with him, and then they take care of Edee during next several days as she goes through her slow recuperation.

While respecting Edee’s wish to stay away from the world outside, Miguel also discerns that Edee needs someone to teach her on how to live in the wilderness, and Edee gratefully accepts his offer once she is well enough to walk outside. As days slowly go by in the wilderness, Miguel teaches her one skill after another, and Edee comes to have some confidence as following the valuable lessons from her unexpected savior.

As they spend more time with each other, Edee and Miguel become a bit friendlier to each other, but the screenplay by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam wisely sidesteps clichés while focusing on how Edee and Miguel tentatively approach closer to each other while not crossing the gap between them. Although he does not say that much, it is clear that Miguel understands well how painful personal loss can be, so he does not ask Edee too much about her personal life, and Edee appreciates that a lot.

During its last act, the movie comes to take a rather predictable route, but Wright and her crew members including cinematographer Bobby Bukowski continue to hold our attention via good mood and solid storytelling. Bukowski did a splendid job of capturing the natural beauty of vast landscapes surrounding the two main characters of the film, and we come to sense more of the slow but constant passage of time as those vivid sceneries are changed season by season on the screen.

Furthermore, Wright is very engaging in her unadorned performance which dutifully carries the film during most of its short running time (89 minutes). Even when her character does not say much, she ably conveys her character’s emotional struggle to us, and she and her co-star Demián Bichir generate a fine low-key chemistry during their several intimate scenes in the movie.

Since she drew our attention via her supporting turn in “Forrest Gump” (1994), Wright has never stopped during last 27 years, and she demonstrates here that she is a good filmmaker besides being one of the most dependable actresses working in Hollywood at present. Although “Land” is more or less than a test run for her, she did it well on the whole, and I think I can have some expectation on whatever she will direct next in the future.

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