Review: God’s Country (2022 Sundance Film Festival)

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Title: Gods Country
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: Julian Higgins
Starring: Thandiwe Newton, Tanaya Beatty, Jefferson White
Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes

What It Is: A grieving woman confronts two hunters on her property, and begins a battle of wills that escalates beyond humanity.

What We Think: Set deep within the rugged mountains of Montana, a conflict of personalities struck with grief, and intimidation centers God’s Country. Sandra Guidry (Thandiwe Newton) lives quietly, mourning her recently deceased mother while teaching at the local university. It is her grief that drives her into a confrontation with two hunters who refuse to respect her initial ask to stay off her property. Hunters Gus (Jeremy Bobb) and his brother Samuel (Jefferson White) seemed determined to escalate the situation by intimidating Sandra, only to have her respond with even more determination to keep them from trespassing. Samuel (played nail grippingly well by White) manifests his ego, again and again, ultimately becoming the catalyst for the film’s climax.

Each scene is carefully orchestrated, as are the character developments, to draw a symphony of emotions. From Sandra’s tempered facial reactions, belying the seething anger purposely drawn out by her battle of wills with Samuel, to the loneliness that seems to surround her even as she stands amongst her colleagues. The camera pans far back when we are to understand the crushing emotion of her mourning and close within when we see her determination, both in conflict with each other as she seems to boil amongst an ocean of actions she is repeatedly told to accept for her own good. Each character is presented in the film in a way to make them both admirable, and despicable, belying the idea of a clear villain, though White’s Samuel comes close.

But ultimately its writers Julian Higgins and Shaye Ogbonna’s fantastic dialogue, and the film’s gifted cinematography capitalize perfectly on Newton’s powerful performance, making Gods Country a cinematic Oscar contender.

Our Grade: A, based on a short story that originally centered a white, cisgender man as its lead, writer Ogbonna spoke of his purposeful choice to change the character to a woman of color, adding an element that defines the suspense throughout the film. Sandra is no damsel but still damaged enough from the loss of her mother to only hint at her power until the film’s dramatic end. Each character adds a layer to the suspense that seems to grab you after the first fateful encounter and grips your attention till an end that leaves you unable to land on emotion as fantastic as Sandra’s face.

Screened via Sundance Film Festival by your Melanin Gifted Movie Critic

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