Wright does a lot of character work in the first half hour of the film with almost no dialogue. The long opening credits find Edee leading to a secluded cabin in the mountains. When she tells the man who guided her there to pick up the rental car when he can, he suggests it’s safer to have a vehicle here. Edee doesn’t care about safety. There is a lack of preparation for what is about to confront Edee who almost leans into the flashbacks that suggest his suicidal nature in the wake of an undisclosed tragedy. It is as if Edee accepts that the Earth takes her back. She can neither hunt nor trap; she does not have enough supplies; Winter is coming. If she dies here, so be it. It’s almost like watching someone slowly drown, hundreds of miles from the ocean.
Writers Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam are withholding details of what pushed Edee to a place that feels almost built by Mother Nature to kill her other than brief flashbacks to a sister named Emma (Kim Dickens) begging Edee not to not commit suicide and glimpses of a man and a boy, which it becomes clear are Edee’s lost family. Basically, “Land” is a story of unimaginable mourning, the kind of pain that reshapes the landscape. Imagine something so horrible happening to you that the world around you seems totally different – why not change your scenery as drastically as moving from the city of Chicago to the Rockies? As a performer, Wright cleverly imbues Edee with what almost feels like constant pain in the film’s first act. It’s such a dark, gloomy story that we start to feel Edee’s relentless sadness with it.
And then “Land” changes gears by introducing a hunter named Miguel (Demian Bichir) and a medic named Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge). Not only do they save Edee’s life, but Miguel becomes an unexpected ally and even a teacher. He promises not to tell Edee anything from the outside world, maintaining his self-isolation, and he doesn’t say much. He will give him the tools to survive, then leave. And he has his own traumas and sorrows to bring on the hunting trip.
As director, Wright and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski (“99 Homes”) strike a nice balance between lyrical shots of the beautiful backdrop and close-ups that reveal the trauma of their characters. It’s a beautiful film that never loses its sense of danger either. There was a shot at the end of the movie where Edee was standing near the edge of a cliff and I was convinced she was going to fall. There is a finely tuned balance between the beauty of this world and the fact that this beauty hides so many aspects that can kill you, from foraging bears to brutal winter snowstorms to cliffs, yes. Anne McCabe & Mikkel EG Nielsen’s cut also deserves praise for striking this balance.