WINTER'S BONE (Dir. Debra Granik, 2010)
A chill can be felt in the opening scenes of this spare backwoods drama. We meet 17 year old Jennifer Lawrence, who looks a little like a rough edged Renée Zellweger, living with her mentally ill mother and 2 younger siblings (Ashlee Thompson and Isaiah Stone) in a humble home in the Ozarks.
Lawrence is told by the local sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) that her drug dealing father has gone missing after putting up their house for bond. If he doesn't make a court date in one week's time they will lose the house.
Lawrence is determined to find her father, dead or alive, no matter how treacherous and uninviting the terrain.
Lawrence's father's meth head brother Teardrop (John Hawkes) warns her against sticking her nose in places it doesn't belong, but her fierce drive to protect her family keeps her going. "Talkin' just causes witnesses" she is told by Dale Dickey - just one of many scary folks she confronts on the trail.
It's a washed out and grim looking film and for the first half it's such a slow burner that a strong sense of the inevitable is impossible to shake.
Unfortunately its grueling build has little in terms of payoff. There are several effective scenes, including a greatly played exchange with a military recruiter that reveals the full extent of Lawrence's character's naivety, but the chilling mood can't withstand the glacial pace.
Although it was based on a 224 page novel by Daniel Woodrell, WINTER'S BONE may have made for a better short film, but as a full length feature it feels stretched out with too many periods of dead air.
It's a less than gripping non thriller that barely skirts by despite good performances by its cast (particularly the stoic Lawrence) and its stark cinematography by Michael McDonough. But if dead air and a hard to shake sense of doom are what you're looking for - WINTER'S BONE has it in spades.