When someone is asked what they would do for their family in a time of need, most would answer “anything”. Some family dynamics can be strained and difficult to maintain while others are close and strong no matter what the circumstances may be. In the film Little Woods, two sisters (played by Tessa Thompson and Lily James) with equally desperate situations put the strength of family to the test.
The film premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and is directed by Nia DaCosta. The story follows a woman named Ollie (Thompson) who has a very risky past living in North Dakota. Ollie is on probation after being caught smuggling medicine and medical supplies over the Canadian border. Her mother has recently passed away and Ollie is unable to stop the home she grew up in from being foreclosed on. And to top things off, Ollie’s sister arrives in town pregnant.
When Ollie’s sister Deb (James) and her daughter arrive in town, Ollie realizes she needs money and she knows that returning to her old life is the best way to get it. The local workers at the oil drilling facilities pay her to get pain killers and medicine for their chronic injuries so they can continue to work. As Ollie returns to her old ways, Deb asks for a very serious favor from her sister. This leads the sisters on a long and tense journey into Canada that truly tests their bond as family.
Without giving too much away, this film does a fantastic job of handling some very dark and real material gracefully. Refusing to indulge in cheap thrills or violence, Little Woods tells its story with the right amount of realism and drama. As they need more money to survive and accomplish their goals, the intensity of Ollie’s jobs gets more and more severe. The tension, suspense, consequences and fear all felt so relatable and natural that it was hard not to develop an attachment to the characters.
Thompson and James proved themselves yet again as two of the most gifted actresses in Hollywood today. Although what Ollie does is technically illegal, something about Thompson’s performance just makes the audience feel her intent to help her loved ones no matter what she has to do and what laws she has to break. The scenes between Thompson and James are effortlessly emotional, charged with familial chemistry that makes it seem as if they’ve known each other their entire lives.
Aside from the incredible performances, the cinematography was very well done. Taking place in the quiet and rustic areas of North Dakota and Canada, the scenery is breathtaking. There is a very gray color pallet throughout the film which fits very well with the overall tone of the story. This is, for the most part, not a happy story and does at times have a hopeless atmosphere. Going along with that, the score that accompanies the film adds to the film’s more tense moments.
Little Woods is one of those movies that is timely now and will most likely still be relatable as the years go by. It’s a very human film that explores the depths we will go to for the ones we love. The mix of haunting visuals and tense music make for a truly unique experience.8