Review: Land stars its director Robin Penn in a survival story

Land (M, 89 minutes)

Two stars

In her first directorial role, Robin Wright took herself and her crew deep into the magnificent North American mountain wilderness. High above the snow line, among the deer, grizzlies, wolves and eagles is beyond many folks' comfort zone. It would be interesting to know how the shoot went.

As the main character, Edee Mathis, in this spare survival drama from a screenplay co-written by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam, Wright plays a city woman who has suffered an unspecified tragedy. As a consequence, she is deeply withdrawn.

Robin Wright stars as "Edee" in her feature directorial debut Land. Picture: Daniel Power / Focus Features

Robin Wright stars as "Edee" in her feature directorial debut Land. Picture: Daniel Power / Focus Features

On a whim, or to finish it all, we don't really know, she has taken herself to the mountains of Wyoming, because she doesn't want to be around people anymore.

However, she has none of the critical survival skills she will need in her new life. She cannot saw wood, nor swing an axe to make firewood. There's a river down below but she has little idea about how to get herself fresh food. Hunting territory stretches from her cabin as far as the eye can see, but she cannot fish, shoot and she needs to consult a manual to create a veggie patch.

When she arrives one summer at an isolated, abandoned log cabin, perhaps there is plenty of time in the foreseeable future to learn how to survive the coming winter. If there is a plan, Edee never discloses it.

All she has when she arrives at her new home is a large supply of canned food for back up. Mainly chilli beans and tuna chunks in oil.

The reasons for this drastic life change are not divulged. We can only intuit from fleeting images of subjective memory. A loving husband and a young son flash by in Edee's reverie, and a sister to whom she is close. What has happened and where are they now? The questions that naturally arise remain unanswered.

Edee will become a hermit. Even the U-Haul that brought her to her new home is sent away, and there is no transport in case of emergency. It's hard not to conclude the worst.

Competing with a destructive impulse there is, perhaps, a drive to get back to basics and start again, from the ground up. Is this the story of a woman who has lost everything and must learn to live again?

At least, for the audience watching the unfolding drama at several removes, there is plenty of time to reflect. The many location shots of mountain wilderness record the changing seasons in the background.

When a grizzly suddenly emerges and traps a petrified Edee in the outhouse, it trashes her cabin and snaffles most of the cans that remain. Survival has become tenuous as winter closes in.

As luck would have it, however, when Edee is looking dangerously thin and drawn, her life hanging by a thread, the door bursts open and a man and woman enter. Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), a local nurse, and Miguel (Demian Bichir), a local hunter, will save her life.

As Edee's health is restored, Miguel drops by to teach her how to hunt, fish and lay traps. It's interesting that Edee takes up her survival skills with rifle and knife, unflinchingly. The pair discover they both are still fans of 1980s pop music.

Edee's friendship with Miguel is diverting and it is important for the plot and final reveal, but the audience is left struggling to understand for too long. The adventure flags, and events are a touch repetitive.

This is the problem with Land. For all the conviction provided by Wright, usually an excellent actress, and the fact that it is filmed on location - with Canada standing in for Wyoming - is that it locks us out. Just like Edee herself telling Miguel that she doesn't want to have any news from the outside world.

The film Wild with Reese Witherspoon was also about undertaking the impossible, a long, arduous solo hike, to recover from personal tragedy. But Land seems more like Into the Wild, about a promising young man who took himself into the Alaskan wilderness, where he tragically died.

The reasons for this remained opaque, but the elusiveness of Into the Wild was more intriguing than Edee's story turns out to be, tragic as it was too. Coincidentally, Into the Wild was directed by Wright's former partner, Sean Penn.

This story Wilderness story is repetitive and opaque first appeared on The Canberra Times.