Land works best as a swooning mood piece, but lacks in thematic complexity and is too familiar by half.
In Land — one of the two high profile films at Sundance 2021 directed by popular actresses making their debuts behind the camera, the other being Rebecca Hall’s Passing — Robin Wright directs and stars as Edee, a woman on the run from her own grief, who escapes to a remote cabin in the Rocky Mountains to heal. It’s difficult not to compare the film to Jean Marc-Vallée’s Wild (or even Sean Penn’s Into the Wild), but Land is a much more insular take on familiar survival material, with Wright putting on a nearly one-woman show for the film’s 90-minute running time. Wright is, of course, magnetic, and her evocation of personal trauma is deeply affecting. But for all of the film’s beautiful locations and pretty cinematography, it feels almost too brief and inconsequential. The always reliable Demián Bichir shows up as a local who helps guide her out of her cloud of grief, but his entrance into the narrative is so belated that it almost doesn’t justify the emotional impact his character has on both the plot and on Wright’s character. Land keeps the true source of Edee’s pain hidden until the very end, but the reveal almost feels cheap, a missing piece of the character’s puzzle that would have perhaps had more impact had it been revealed earlier in the film.
Structural issues aside, Land is much more successful as a mood piece. The film is at its best when it’s just focused on Wright and the land, as she struggles to survive in the harsh winter elements, setting up her new home, hunting for food, and fending off hungry bears. In that regard, it’s almost Cast Away in the mountains, with Wright commanding every moment in a nearly wordless performance. Buoyed by a lovely, rustic score by Ben Sollee and string trio Time for Three, Land is an easy watch filled with gorgeous images and meditative lyricism, but for all its beauty it never manages to connect on a deeper level. After a year like 2020, a story about a woman who cuts the cord, leaves her cell phone and the internet behind, and heads off into the wilderness for some peace and quiet is certainly easy to relate. But while Wright displays a keen eye for shooting mountain vistas, the film consistently shies away from tackling its thematic material head on, relying instead on its lush scenery and an all-too-familiar story about a person’s triumph over adversity through an encounter with nature.
Originally published as part of Sundance Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 6.