There is a desire woven into American life to retreat from society and embrace nature, usually, as a means to self-discovery, or in the case of Land, it is mental and emotional recovery. Robin Wright's feature-length debut sees the wilds of Wyoming as a place to rebuild oneself after a loss. Edee (Wright) pushes past this, to use connecting with nature as a way to perhaps let nature destroy her. She is a woman drowning in sorrow after a painful loss.
Screenwriters Wright, Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam equate external hardships with internal ones. Edee goes through a lot of trials as she first moves to a remote cabin cut off from the rest of the world. We get snippets of her past in flashbacks. Needlessly teased out is the event that causes Edee to shut down and want to retreat to nature. It is eventually revealed in full but at first, all we know is that it involved her husband and son. The obscuring of Edee's backstory seems to be aimed at providing some intrigue to the film's thin plot. However, the way these moments are shot and edited into the story comes off as sappy troupes of film's of this nature. We don't need them. Edee's struggle to learn how to survive alone is enough.
Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski keeps things beautiful even as Edee experiences the brutal force of nature. There are long stretches of the film that are dialogue-free and the beautiful scenery is easy to soak in. Edee begins to starve after she makes some key mistakes. Miguel (Demián Bichir) is a hunter who finds her near-death and helps to teach her how to survive out in the wild. It is here that Land is at its best. Bichir is appealing as Miguel, a man who is further along in dealing with loss and pain than Edee. The film restrains itself from any romantic trappings as he teaches Edee how to hunt and trap. There is an authentic quality to these lessons.
The film's score is a standout element of Land. Ben Sollee uses violin droning sounds to create an auditory representation of the beauty and pain at the center of the film. The score does some emotional lifting as the film has such little dialogue. It is a real highlight to Land.
Edee's transformation is a bit rushed. She goes from a neophyte to a female version of Bear Grylls in no time. The film's third act rushes through her growth and thus you don't feel the emotional connection to Edee that you do to Miguel. He is such a likable character that he practically steals the film's focus. We care more about his fate in the end than hers and that is a problem when he isn't the lead character. The non-specific title of the film, Land, seems to also apply to the film's lesson. In the end, Edee is too ill-defined for the film to really succeed in saying something about nature and the human condition. It may not work emotionally but the film is something to look at.