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The Pioneer Widow

Daniel Power/Focus Features

Land (2021)

In her directorial debut/Oscar showcase, “Land,” Robin Wright plays Edee, a woman grieving the losses of her husband and son. She leaves everything and civilization behind to rough it out in the Wyoming Rockies in a ramshackle wood cabin without electricity or plumbing. While Edee is in the outhouse, an ursine visitor stops by and ransacks the cabin and months’ worth of canned goods therein. She is in bad shape when Miguel (Demián Bichir) and Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge) find her after becoming alarmed by smoke no longer rising from her chimney in the dead of winter. Edee refuses to go to a hospital, so Miguel volunteers to care for her and eventually imparts some essential survival skills along with an ’80s hit song.

This could have turned out very badly: It could have been a literal bloody mess in the woods like its fellow Sundance selectees, “In the Earth” and “Violation,” where the absence of civilization makes the woods prime for crime. Or worse, it could have ended up a Lifetime Movie of the Week that insincerely goes out of way to jerk a few tears.

Ms. Wright and screenwriters Jesse Chatham and Erin Digman have instead shown great restraint, resisting the easy temptation to extract every ounce of horror or melodrama from this scenario. Ultimately, Edee’s increasing self-sufficiency propels her through very literal stages of grief. The payoff is minor, but resonates in a way unmatched by movies that try to do more.


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