Drama, rated PG-13, 89 minutes, streaming March 5, 3 chiles
In Robin Wright’s feature-film directorial debut, Land, Edee (Wright) no longer wants to be around people. She leaves the city and moves to a mountaintop in Wyoming, discarding her cell phone and SUV along the way. Land explores the sort of self-selected isolation that only those who have had their worldviews radically altered by trauma might seek. We soon glean that Edee has lost her husband and son, but we don’t know how they died. We know only that she’s intent on battling the wilderness for survival. But it’s a suicide move; she is unprepared for the strength of the elements.
Wright turns in a strong performance that often rests on her ability to be believably freezing during a long, snowy winter of emotional desolation. Her physical and mental descent into hypothermia is palpable. She’s rescued by a hunter, Miguel (Demián Bichir), and a local nurse, Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge). They light a fire to warm her, and you get a visceral sense of her slow thawing. It’s here that Land might have taken a turn for the cliché, with a pair of Native American saviors who nurse Edee back to health, and show her that love and connection will always triumph. But Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam’s screenplay subtly subverts these rote expectations. The Indigenous presence is part of the movie’s geographic reality, not a cinematic fantasy. The relationship Edee forges with Miguel is one of kinship and survival. He teaches her to trap and hunt. They spend much of their time together in silence, only slowly getting to know about each other’s lives. As Edee acclimates to her new existence, we see the rigidity of her grief begin to crack in Miguel’s presence.
Winter turns to spring and then summer, and Edee learns to live off the land. The lines around her eyes deepen from spending so much time in the sun, but they are even deeper when she smiles, which Edee doesn’t seem to know she’s started doing. As Miguel, Bichir is a quiet revelation. Miguel’s personality seeps out through his eyes, which smile even when the rest of his face is neutral. He has problems of his own, which are revealed in an ending that is a bit rushed and slightly predictable, but nonetheless affecting. Land has a quiet sense of spirituality that is rooted in Edee and Miguel navigating through shared sadness into a place of acceptance, and even grace.