CineVegas Review: ‘Redland’
You know well from the opening shots of ‘Redland’ the direction Asiel Norton is taking you. The less said, the better, even in the film’s opening scene, but the starting point of Norton’s film, which he wrote and directed, is as memorable and as shocking as anything else found in the film.
It is a film about a family living in the rural area of America during the Great Depression, but that’s like saying ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is a film about a war. On the surface, ‘Redland’ tells the tale of a young girl who lives in the wilderness with her two brothers, mother and father. The family is struggling, fighting off the hunger and even starvation that faces them day-in and day-out. The young girl is hiding a secret from her family. She has had an affair with a young man, and that affair is the catalyst that drives the narrative forward.
Norton’s story, which was co-written by Magdalena Zyzak, goes to the heart of what holds a family together and what can, eventually, tear it apart at the seams. It is a story that never wavers, never lets you feel that the screenwriters behind it have lost their own way. Norton and Zyzak know full well where their story is headed, and every, little detail that stems from the screenplay serves towards the film’s final moments. There aren’t any real surprises to be found in the screenplay, but that is hardly an issue in the way ‘Redland’ plays out. Even if you have a sneaking suspicion where the story is headed, you aren’t fully sure how Norton is going to handle it or what the ultimate outcome will truly be.
There is a feeling of mystery at play within ‘Redland,’ as well. The characters are splayed out before you. The story is set. However, you aren’t quite sure what direction the film will take in the overall sense. There are countless paths Norton’s film could follow. It could grow incredibly violent. It could even delve into the supernatural. Norton never hand-delivers the film in any, single box to its audience. Instead, he forces you to sit back, observe what he has in store for you, and, once it has reached its conclusion, make your own decision as to what it was truly about.
Not long into the film, the story breaks off into two directions. A trio of men go off into the wilderness to hunt for food while the young girl stays at home with her mother and younger brother to fend off the starvation that is slowly creeping in. The screenplay neither neglects one party nor favors the other. Equal time is given to both sides and the struggles each party must endure, and nothing, not one intricacy about the ways the two groups must survive, is left out. This level of detail brings the world of Norton’s film into full view. It surrounds you, forces you to see it through the character’s eyes, even when what you are forced to see is anything but pleasant.
But, even with the powerful story the film tells and the underlying themes that resonate, Norton captures so much more here than just an interesting story. ’Redland’ is a beautiful film. You can just sit back and look at the visuals Norton and cinematographer Zoran Popovic have culminated together to help move the story along. There is a very Terrance Malick feel to ‘Redland.’ Often we get seemingly random shots of nature and glimmering light through the trees. However, nothing is random in Norton’s film. As the message he puts before the end credits states, ‘There is no beginning and there is no end.’ ’Redland’ is about, more than anything, life in the face of certain death, the notion that everything goes on, even when death touches you.
Norton is a lover of the craft, and he knows full well how to handle his way around a shot. Every frame of the film is a painting, and Norton and Popovic utilize every aspect they can get their hands on to make the film as appealing to look at as possible. But the film never falls into the “style over substance” trappings that it easily could have. Everything builds the film up as a complete package, and it’s power is undeniable.
There is even room in ‘Redland’ for its actors to shine. A few of them appear to act as stand-ins for necessary roles, but a few of them are quite remarkable. Lucy Adden as the young girl and Mark Aaron as her father serve as the film’s leads, and they each give incredible performances that are as subtle as they are bold.
‘Redland’ is a film that stays with you. Every aspect of it, from the story to the acting to the immaculate usage of the Northern California environment helps aid in the full effect of the film. It is a hard film. Even when the lense appears soft around the edges, the story and theme is certainly not. Regardless, each aspect is unquestionably flawless. ’Redland’ is a film as beautiful as it is painful, and, sometimes, painful is necessary.