land review

“I’m here because I choose to be.” So says Edee (Robin Wright) after she’s been resuscitated from near-death in a secluded cabin tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. As Land begins, we see Edee come to the cabin under somewhat mysterious circumstances: she throws her cell phone in a trash can, and once she’s moved-in she pays someone to come haul her car away so she has no real way to leave without getting lost wandering in all that wilderness. The cabin rests on the edge of a hill and has quite the view – all sprawling mountains blanketed with green and capped with snow. It’s a peaceful place – in theory. But Edee is not used to living like this, and though she came prepared with canned food and other essentials, it doesn’t take long before she’s in mortal danger.

What brought Edee here? And did she come out here to die? She’s haunted by flashes of her past – images of a silent husband and son who are always out of reach; memories of hopeless, tear-inducing fights with her sister (Kim Dickens). It’s clear she wants to flee from the world she came from, and the picturesque wilderness seems like the perfect escape hatch.

It isn’t long before the harshness of reality comes crashing in. The roof of the cabin leaks; Edee doesn’t know how to chop wood for her fire; and, worst of all, a bear comes storming into the cabin one day and devours all her provisions. Doom hovers above her head – but maybe that’s what Edee wants? Maybe this is a long-game suicide attempt. Even if it’s not, it’s clear that Edee isn’t exactly clamoring to stay alive. She’s cut herself off from everyone and everything. She’s here because she chooses to be.

Land marks Wright’s feature directorial debut (she’s directed episodes of House of Cards before this), and the filmmaker/star is wise enough to let the wilderness her character is stuck in do a lot of the heavy lifting. Working with cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, Wright frequently cuts away to the widest shots possible – shots that encompass rolling hills and pristine, untouched woodlands as far as the eye can see. These quiet panoramas take your breath away, and it’s easy to see why Wright has included so many shots of them. We get a genuine sense of how small Edee and her cabin are against the backdrop of all that hinterland.

But pretty pictures only go so far, and while Wright is appropriately anguished as Edee, Land begins to tread the same ground over and over. Could you argue that this is intentional; that Wright is deliberately portraying the monotony of it all? Sure, but that doesn’t keep it from hurting the film’s flow. Things pick up a bit when Edee makes a friend – Miguel Borras (Demián Bichir), a local hunter who helps save her life when he stumbles upon the dying Edee on the floor of her ransacked cabin.

A tenderness blooms between the two. Is it a romance? No, there’s no indication of that. Instead, it’s a kind of knowing friendship. Miguel has lost people in his life too, and while he’s not as self-destructive as Edee, his embracing of the outdoors is a similar escape. Miguel’s friendship nurses Edee back to health but physically and spiritually, and a case could be made that there’s something reductive here – that Edee was completely helpless until a big, strong man came along and taught her how to chop some wood. But I don’t think that’s what Wright and screenwriters Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam are going for here. They’re merely underscoring the idea that people need other people. In some capacity. Even the most misanthropic of us longs to reach out and connect with at least someone.

Bichir has become one of those actors I’m always happy to see show up in films no matter what the circumstances and Land is a particularly nice showcase for his talents. He deftly blends a roughness with tenderness in a way that’s endearing, and when Land is content enough to let Edee and Miguel sit by a fire and sing Tears for Fears songs off-key, it’s quite charming.

And yet…it all feels so slight. Once the friendship between Edee and Miguel is firmly established, Land drifts towards an inevitable conclusion that fails to pack the emotional punch Wright and company were clearly hoping for. Tearful confessions and big dramatic beats fail when contrasted with the emotions that swell up from the unblemished beauty of the landscape. It ultimately left me cold and feeling as if Land‘s central drama was unable to compete with nature.

/Film rating: 6.5 out of 10 

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer and critic for /Film, and the host of the 21st Century Spielberg podcast. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net