Review by Nathan Samdahl (D)
While I wish I could say that Redland exceeded my expectations or moved me or left some kind of positive impact, I sadly cannot. Redland seems like a film that had high art intensions, striving to show a new perspective on the man vs. nature theme that we've seen so beautifully executed by filmmakers like Terrence Malick or David Gordon Green. And while the visual style used here is not quite like anything I've seen before, Redland fails to deliver the emotional connections needed to make the film engaging.
One of my overall qualms is Redland's visual style. I'm all for grain and abstract nature images, but the extreme grain and haze placed over nearly the entire film was suffocating to watch. After about 10 minutes, I had already mentally checked out of the film. There were several points where minutes would go by without me being able to discern what I was watching. And what was more disappointing is that director Asiel Norton clearly had some interesting visual ideas and shot selections, but unfortunately I couldn't see most of them.
I'm sure Norton had particular reasons for presenting the film in this way, perhaps to show how awe-inspiring and often unforgiving nature can be. But in the end, I felt more and more distanced from the characters and constantly foiled from my attempts to connect with their plight.
In addition to the visuals, the story felt oppressively dark. The two characters that I actually wanted to empathize with, the daughter and her forbidden boyfriend, both only share brief moments towards the beginning of genuine warmth. After that, as their plight worsened, my connections with them did as well as they exhibited so little hope or pathos to cling onto. In particular, the use of incest towards the end of the film really squashed any remaining positive feelings towards the characters. An audience member can only take so much.
In its core concept, there is definitely something there: a family that lives off the land, each day a struggle to survive in an inhospitable world. However, the elements of story, character, visual style and just about everything else left a sour taste in my mouth and worked counter to creating an engaging and visceral viewing experience. Director Norton may be someone to keep an eye on down the road, but as is, I would not recommend this film.
To see the man vs. nature them driven home to much greater effect, look to films such as The New World, Walkabout and George Washington. All exhibit clear, naturally lit, and often abstract visuals that allow the audience to become engaged with the characters and the story while providing each film with an elusive ethereal quality, which many films desire but few achieve.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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