- Jonny Diaz
Sundance Review: Land
Land, the feature directing debut by actress Robin Wright, is part grief drama, part nature survival story. Premiering at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, it’s a clear-eyed depiction of a woman (Wright) who, in an attempt to escape profound loss, abandons all connections to the world and flees into the wilderness. But after a harrowing winter storm, she befriends a man (Demián Bichir) who rescues her in more ways than one.
It’s a contemplative, soulful film that finds real emotion in its simplicity. As director, Wright gives the audience just the necessary information to follow along, never weighing down the story. For long stretches, it plays out like an elemental experience, with gorgeous landscape photography by D.P. Bobby Bukowski that evokes the beauty and harshness of nature—Alberta, Canada stands in for Wyoming—and emphasizes its capacity for healing and unforgiving violence in equal measure.
The screenplay by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam wisely evades the usual cliches of the grief drama. We never see Edee (Wright) making the decision to leave her life behind for a solitary existence in the mountains, nor do we learn what the inciting trauma was until the film’s final act. When we meet her, she’s already decided. She discards her phone and is on her way out to a cabin on a remote mountainside, where she’ll either survive or not. Absent that exposition, Land ends up crafting a more experiential drama, the bulk of which hangs on Wright’s often wordless performance at its center.
As an actor, Wright’s best known work can be sorted into two distinct categories. On one end, there are luminous figures in The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump; on the other, her imperious and calculating performance in House of Cards. Edee falls somewhere in between those two extremes. She has a brittle sadness and steely resolve, particularly in the more survivalist segments, but she also demonstrates a soft warmth, particularly in her scenes with Bichir. Their platonic connection feels authentic and helps give the film its emotional throughline.
I don’t know if Land will find a broad audience; it’s quieter than superficially similar survivalist stories like Cast Away or The Revenant. But patient audiences will be rewarded with an emotionally satisfying story about human connection—not just to nature, but to each other.