Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA/Canada, 2021. Big Beach Films, Cinetic Media, Nomadic Pictures. Screenplay by Jesse Chatham, Erin Dignam. Cinematography by Bobby Bukowski. Produced by Leah Holzer, Lora Kennedy, Peter Saraf, Allyn Stewart. Music by Ben Sollee, Time For Three. Production Design by Trevor Smith. Costume Design by Kemal Harris. Film Editing by Anne McCabe, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen.
Robin Wright plays a woman suffering bereavement after a devastating tragedy who packs up her city life into a rental truck and drives up to a remote cabin in the mountains of Wyoming (actually filmed in Alberta). Her ceaseless pain has convinced her to live off the grid and away from humanity, throwing her smartphone in the garbage and relinquishing the ownership of any vehicle, determined to stay as remote and self-supporting as possible. Things are awkward at first, she’s not an ace with an axe and the animal noises outside her home at night are troubling, but she feels she might be getting the hang of it before she endures a near-fatal setback: a bear invades her home and destroys the majority of her food supply, after which she does her best to tough out the winter but eventually comes close to starving before a hunter (Demian Bichir) wandering nearby nurses her back to health. Bichir respects her standoffish and distant attitude of not wanting to connect with another person, but eventually the two strangers form a bond of friendship that reawakens her desire to live, he teaches her survival techniques for life in the great outdoors and she, warming to his presence, eventually begins to look forward to his visits.
Wright also directs this film, her first time on a feature, and does a wonderful job of keeping this story down to its essentials, there’s no fat on the narrative as we move through the most important points of her wilderness experience from near-death to confident survivor. For all that one can appreciate the fact that she never overplays anything, though, there’s something about it that never quite goes deep enough, all the shots of her gardening and cleaning feel like she was only doing it for as long as the camera was on, and the more emotional scenes, in which she and Bichir open up to each other about their past, feel scripted and performed. The actors do enjoy terrific chemistry, and it should be said that Wright places as much control on her own performance as she does on the tight script, never using her directorial position as an excuse to overindulge herself in a showy or overwrought performance. Beautiful landscapes fill the eye and almost make the lifestyle choice enviable, and most attempts to avoid the cliches of outdoor films generally succeed.