Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.”
In “Land,” Robin Wright’s (“House of Cards”) feature-film directorial debut, Edee (played by Wright) goes to Wyoming to find solace after a traumatic event. It’s too bad the film loses its way.
First off, this probably isn’t Wright’s fault. Her direction is aesthetically impeccable, shot with a keen eye for landscape and character. In one of the first scenes, the lights and bustle of Chicago blur around Edee as she walks alone through the dark, melting in the face of her immense grief. It’s heart-wrenching.
With the strength of sheer acting and directorial talent, Wright carries the first act, where Edee is alone in the wilderness, trying to survive both the elements and her spiraling trauma. She wanders through rolling hills with misty trees, where mountains loom in the distance and gurgling rivers teem with fish. While beautiful, the landscape is never simplified and even turns jarringly hostile.
On Edee’s first night in Wyoming, the tranquil forest surrounding the cabin becomes a dark, screaming canvas for her inner anguish. Wright’s skill both in front of and behind the camera makes this horrifying, especially for those who know what it’s like to lay awake and have their thoughts run wild.
There’s privilege inherent in buying private land in the middle of nowhere to grieve in — most people just play Animal Crossing. Edee’s wealth doesn’t alienate her, though, because the trip is less a “Wild”-style quest for self-reinvention and more a self-destructive, misanthropic impulse.
Edee doesn’t seem to care about living through this excursion. Still, a man she meets named Miguel (Demián Bichir, “Alien Covenant”) tells her, “Only a person who’s never been hungry would think starving is a good way to die.”
The script conjures mystery by not revealing why Edee has chosen to throw her smartphone away, pack up some camping supplies and go live in a log cabin. The people she’s grieving jarringly appear as in-scene ghosts (a-la “Phantom Thread”), but answers aren’t provided.
On top of the suspense this creates, it’s also appropriate for Edee’s situation. After all, a woman trying to escape her grief by living in the wilderness isn’t going to dwell on the past if she can help it.
Yet, in a vital moment, when the film depicts its most harrowing topic, the script starts its dovetail into melodrama. After this cinematic bungle, Edee meets Miguel, who tries coaxing her out of her depressive shell. Their dialogue ranges from passable to cringe-worthy, even when delivered by two excellent actors.
Then, about two-thirds into the film, there’s a strange dismissal of Edee’s intense mental illness. She seems to heal almost completely just by learning to hunt with Miguel and taking care of his dog. If that’s all it takes to “get over” depression, sign me up.
The careful realism of the first act makes this feel like a bait and switch, where a complex character is unraveled because the plot needs her to get better. To make things worse, “Land’s” climax is bafflingly stilted, with dialogue so abysmal it crosses into the realm of comedy.
Even with the incredible talent involved, “Land” is sabotaged by its screenplay. Its first act’s artful, restrained portrait of a woman losing herself is an unfortunate reminder of what could have been.
Daily Arts Writer Andrew Warrick can be reached at email@example.com.