Movie Review: “The Cold Lands” Is A Beautiful To Look At But Slow-Burning Drama

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Review by James McDonald

When his self-reliant mother dies unexpectedly, Atticus flees deep into the forests surrounding his Catskills home. Wandering the woods in shock, relying on what meager food and shelter he comes across, Atticus’ grasp on reality begins to fray.

“The Cold Lands” is a restrained movie that is very straightforward and honest. Not a lot happens throughout but that’s the whole point. In all of our everyday, humdrum lives, there isn’t very much that materializes that would fill a two hour movie and “The Cold Lands” is very well aware of that. Atticus (Silas Yelich) is a young boy who lives with his self-reliant mother Nicole (Lili Taylor). They live off grid and use candle light during the night to get around. Nicole has diabetes and struggles with it daily and one day after arriving home from school, Atticus is stunned as he walks up the driveway to discover an ambulance taking away his mother’s body. He hides in the bushes as concerned neighbors await his return and then quickly takes off into the woods behind his house.

He wanders around the forest for days, surviving on berries and apples and makes a quick trip home to pick up his mother’s cell phone, just as the police arrive to set up camp inside the house in the hopes of his return. While out in the backwoods, he comes across Carter (Peter Scanavino), a pothead who saves his life from an overzealous and armed meth dealer who Atticus happens to stumble across. The two become inseparable and Atticus begins to look up to him like a big brother and they form an unlikely kinship and after Carter is fired from his job for tardiness, the two set out to begin a new uncharted chapter in their lives. The movie is beautifully shot by Wyatt Garfield, showing some absolutely stunning photography of the Catskills and its surrounding terrain.

Young Silas Yelich as Atticus is fine in the lead role but after his mother is out of the picture, he has very little to do and the movie suffers because of it, becoming an endless assemblage of long, uninterrupted but beautiful-looking shots with no eventuality. Peter Scanavino as Carter is instantly likeable and upon accepting Atticus into his life, he immediately assumes a legitimate adult responsibility and you feel better for Atticus because of it. There are a few scenes when Nicole appears, watching over Atticus from the afterlife but they are unnecessary and slow the movie down instead of enhancing it. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t set out to achieve a particular end result, like most conventional movies but watching the relationship between the two men develop and mature, more than makes up for the rest of the movie’s shortcomings.

In stores August 12th

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James McDonald
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