Read Time:3 Minute, 8 Second

★★☆☆☆

Mid-way through Land, Robin Wright’s Edee is being taught to hunt by kindly woodsman Miguel (Demián Bichir). Spying a deer, a good distance away on the other side of a broad river, she shuts her eyes, pauses for breath, and fires. Lo and behold, she kills it. Despite being a city girl who has never fired a rifle in her life.

Sadly, this moment is symptomatic of a lacklustre, clichéd and at times wholly unbelievable film. Despite the best of intentions, Wright’s directorial feature debut never hits its mark. Going over the hills and far away to escape from the world, Edee is unaware that in the movies, as in life, running away has never been the answer to anyone’s problems. But after a swift opening prologue shows therapy is not helping her deal with what so ails her, she takes to the road and buys a cabin in the woods.

Land was filmed on location in Alberta, here filling in for deepest, darkest Wyoming, and the landscape speaks for itself. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski has a literal field [forest] day with the back of beyond surroundings, but after the filler shots of trees, water, sky, stars, mountains have revolved three or four times, we cry out for more. Edee, ill-prepared in the extreme for such extreme isolation, does her best to make a hut a home, but has clearly never used an axe or a saw before, either.

And there’s nothing at all wrong in that, but it becomes hard to sympathise with a character that has been so completely naïve in her undertaking, stricken as she may be by mourning. As minimal as Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam’s script is, given that Edee spends the majority of the film alone, it is hackneyed, pitted with eye-rollingly rote lines. It does not do enough to develop its characters or themes (grief, loss, even the contemplation of suicide) to a point that we are invested in the suffering being suffered. Leaving her front door open to a very unwelcome four-pawed guest, after a first act where not a lot goes right, Edee comes to the conclusion, “This isn’t working.” Quite.

And as a winter blizzard rolls in, battering hatches that she hasn’t battened down, the situation goes from bad to worse. Cue grizzled, big-hearted, handsome Miguel. It’s a pity that a film championing a strong, resilient woman’s plight to overcome a tragedy needs a male saviour, but guess who has also suffered an almost identical loss and becomes a kindred spirit to Edee? That’s right. The fact he is also the only other human around is moot; the saint-like Miguel “can’t take money for doing the right thing,” as he picks up supplies for Edee, who remains determined to stay a long way from the rest of human kind.

With the script not allowing either of them the room to open up about past hurts to anything more than a fleeting remark or stares into the distance, multiple montages track their trapping and hunting lessons. Miguel’s several renditions (he can sing as well) of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World will have you cringing and shifting awkwardly in your campfire chair. All in all, so little actually happens in Land – both in terms of plotting or character arc – that we end up more or less where we began, neither experiencing nor learning anything new, insightful or profound about the heavy themes it attempts, but fails, to adequately explore.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival takes place between the 28 January to 3 February. You can follow CineVue’s coverage here.

Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63