It’s a slow burn, one that takes place over the course of seven short days in the coldest of landscapes, giving the title a certain irony. And it’s a war of the most personal kind.
In Julian Higgins’ God’s Country, college professor Sandra (Thandiwe Newton) had shared a remote house with her mother, but the elderly woman’s death means her life is now about solitude and re-building her life. Shortly after the funeral, she notices a red truck on her land. A polite note asking the owners to park elsewhere is ignored, crumpled up in the snow, and a conversation with the two men concerned – hunters who are using a short cut – doesn’t resolve the situation. What follows is an escalating war of attrition, with the police involved at arm’s length, and which accentuates Sandra’s solitude in both her home and the local town, where she works.
She cuts a remote figure from the outset and, with nobody else at her mother’s cremation, there’s a strong sense not just of them both being outsiders, but of a strained, embittered relationship. It blights Sandra’s grief with guilt, even though the tears refuse to flow when she sorts through all those boxes of long-forgotten possessions. But, while the film starts with a tight focus on both its central character and location, it unfolds into a broader narrative and that’s where it unravels. Sandra’s back story as a former cop who went through the horrors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans would, under other circumstances, have more than enough power of its own but, piled onto her existing emotional baggage, it becomes almost too much to bear, both for her and the audience.
It’s to Newton’s credit that she more than delivers everything that’s asked of her. Aside from one or two moments that lurch into melodrama, her face is drained, grief stricken and exhausted. She’s in every scene, commanding most of them and often in close up, none of which is a hardship. She gets good support from Jeremy Bobb as the sympathetic but powerless acting local sheriff, and Joris Jarsky as the more reasonable of the two hunters. But as the themes multiply, the story becomes uneven and the tension starts to wobble.
Much of that is down to the script, which leans towards the blunt and unsubtle, but on the plus side the vast, unwelcoming landscape is allowed to do a fine job of creating a silent hostility. The climax holds little surprises, however, leaving the sense that much of the tension has been wasted on a journey that never quite lives up to its initial promise.
Drama | Cert: tbc | Sundance Film Festival 2022 | Dir. Julian Higgins | Thandiwe Newton, Jefferson White, Jeremy Bobb, Joris Jarsky, Kai Lennox.