“The Cold Lands,” directed by Tom Gilroy, tells the coming-of-age story of young Atticus (Silas Yelich) who lives in a world of his own. He is home-schooled, is more intelligent than his peers and has survival skills, which his self-sufficient mother who believes that they can only rely on themselves to navigate the harsh currents of life taught him.
So when his mother (Lili Taylor) suddenly dies, Atticus is left to cope alone and does something any normal teenager would — he runs away to the forest. Isolated from the world, Atticus’ subconscious presents the image of his mother to guide and advise him in his travels. There begins Atticus’ journey of self-discovery that involves escaping from the police, living off the land and even breaking into someone’s house to steal supplies. While making his way through the woods, Atticus meets a wandering laborer named Carter (Peter Scanavino) and warily joins him in his nomadic lifestyle on the road.
Gilroy, who also produced the film, manages to transport the viewer into Atticus’ world and portrays vivid scenes that transform what would have been a cliché film into something that is gorgeously and tastefully made. Shots of Atticus’ adventures in the forest do not make it seem as if he is alone at all — the forest fills up the frames.
Gilroy successfully conveys his characters’ feelings through his camera style, but the actors’ performances cannot compare to the beautiful scenery and strong direction. While Atticus is meant to be bold and self-dependent, Yelich’s movements and conversations are too robotic to be convincing.
Taylor delivers an enjoyable performance as a tough single mom, but her death is abrupt and unforeseen and her presence is missed throughout the rest of the film. Scanavino gives a more credible portrayal as Carter, an independent pothead who lives on the road and maintains his lifestyle by making and selling jewelry, serving as a haunting vision of Atticus’ future.
The film also has many plot holes that should not have been overlooked. Some elements recur a few times throughout the movie but are never fully elaborated upon. For example, Atticus’ tendency to steal, his mother’s hatred of the government and an unlocked house full of useful equipment are never explained well enough to feel like natural developments in the story. The film leaves the audience with an absent feeling, whether it is the acting or the underdeveloped writing. What really saves it is the imagery and thoughtful shots that leave viewers wanting more. All in all, “The Cold Lands” is a visually beautiful film with mediocre acting and a sparse plot that leaves viewers out in the cold.
A version of this article appeared in the March 13 print edition. Nomundari Baatar is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com.