Published Feb 01, 2021In Land, Robin Wright foreshadows the acting masterclass that's to come from its very first scene. In the first glimpse of her character, Edee, her face is out of focus behind an hourglass. She's in a therapy session. "How are you feeling?" her therapist asks. There's a pause. It's a question that's difficult for her to answer and it looks as though tears are swelling up in her eyes and she's about to burst.
Land is a portrait of a lonely woman carrying immense pain. While Wright excels at conveying this through her performance, acting isn't the only craft she's tackling here — she's also taking the reigns as director. While small in scale, Land carries immense weight in its survivalist narrative, character study, and themes that hit hard in their relevance to our current reality.
Edee's mental state is hinted at in flashbacks, and her imagination also helps create exposition, something that otherwise feels insufficient at times. We learn she's dealing with a heartbreaking loss, and, as a result, has begun to contemplate her existence. She seems to be suffering from mental illness, and, as therapy doesn't seem to be helping, she decides to find her own way to cope. So, throwing her phone in the trash, she escapes the big city. She drives to a desolate cabin surrounded by the picturesque sights — shot with care and emphasis by Bobby Bukowski — that carry a beauty instantly familiar to those who have ever visited the Canadian Rockies (where Land was filmed). To most, camping in the Rockies is a dreamscape, but Edee is in complete isolation and faces the harshness of both the elements and the woods' dwellers. Wanting to escape and unplug for a while is normal, but the U-Haul full of boxes she takes with her indicates she wants to make this move permanent, even if it means leaving family like her sister behind. It's a perplexing aspect to her character, because it seems unimaginable to drop everything and everyone and escape to the mountains forever, but she's written in a fascinating way that makes you want to see her journey through.
Most of us have watched enough horror films to know that staying in a cabin alone in the words probably isn't the best idea. She gets more than she bargained for when the harsh winter hits and she runs out of food. Starving both for warmth and nourishment, she's found on the brink of death by a hunter (Demián Bichir). Edee's grief has left her stuck in the past and disconnected from everyone in her life and people in general. So, as he nurses her back to health, it's touching to see the trusting bond that forms between them, especially when their relationship refreshingly doesn't veer into anything romantic. We've heard many times, especially over the past year, how human connection is vital to our survival. This certainly applies to Edee, as we not only see him teach her how to literally survive alone in the wilderness, but also help to unburden her of the demons seated unbearably on her shoulders. By finding purpose and a new way to live, the character feels reborn, and Wright's fortitude and vulnerability is something to witness.
Land isn't Wright's first foray into the craft of directing – she directed 10 episodes of House of Cards and a short film – and she delivers a strong feature film debut. A film of much stillness, and a Western-esque score to complete the mood, it's clear that Wright knew what kind of story she wanted to tell. It's nothing groundbreaking, as it sticks to conventions that have been seen many times before. Its slow pace won't be for everyone, especially when only one character drives the entire story. But even though there isn't much to differentiate Land from similar narratives, Wright proves to be a force both in front and behind the camera, and that makes this journey worth taking. (Focus)