If case you haven’t noticed – or been on Twitter lately – but most of us aren’t getting along these days. Americans are deeply divided along political party lines making holiday dinners something of a bloodsport. And Canadians aren’t immune from these fissures as evidenced by last year’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests. Plenty of horror movies have implicitly dealt with political issues from They Live to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Purge franchise, for example, has examined class divisions albeit in a more cartoonish way. Few horror movies have dealt serious social issues as directly as Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Now the latest indie horror release, This Land, tackles the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ divide among Americans
Mixed race couple, Ava and Neil Owens, along with their teen son, drive out to a remote cabin rental for a weekend getaway. Just one year earlier, Ava lost her unborn child in a tragic home invasion. But the Owens’ attempts to re-patch their relationship take an abrupt detour when they discover their cabin has been double-booked. And the other family – Grady and Barb Moss plus teen daughter, Reagan – fall on the opposite end of the political spectrum. While the Owens pride themselves on their progressive values, the Moss family are traditional Republicans. However, a looming threat from the outside forces the two divided families to join forces to fight for their mutual survival.
This Land Mixes Genres, Tones Resulting in an Uneven Thriller
To some extent, This Land suffers from trying to do too much in one micro-budgeted movie. Writers Leon Langford and Collin Watts want to tell a story about the political divisions plaguing American discourse set in the horror genre. And the genre makes sense as a vehicle for this sort of commentary. Much of what we’re witnessing in public discourse should be terrifying. But This Land throws too much into the mix. It’s a home invasion movie, an evil cult thriller, and a cabin in the woods slasher. And many of the tropes we associate with each of these subgenres find their way into the movie. Past trauma, useless law enforcement, cars that won’t start, people splitting up – there’s a lot of double-dipping into the cliches’
But This Land throws too much into the mix. It’s a home invasion movie, an evil cult thriller, and a cabin in the woods slasher.
Much of This Land also plays out as two disparate movies that only somewhat connect to one another by the finale. Nearly an hour of the movie is spent exploring the tensions that immediately emerge between the two families. Director Richard Greenwood Jr. – making his feature length directorial debut – creates some genuinely uncomfortable moments. What This Land imagines probably doesn’t look different from a lot of American homes during Thanksgiving dinner. But the subsequent horror elements feel clumsily executed. Greenwood course corrects a bit with a finale that finds a mix of tension and some grotesque horror.
This Land Softens Its Social Commentary With Strokes That Are Too Broad
As mentioned above, however, over half of This Land focuses on exploring the tensions between its two families. This part of the thriller works better then most of what follows it. Yet Langford and Watts’ screenplay trades too much on exaggerated stereotypes to ring true as a social commentary. All of the adult characters feel like cartoonish caricatures of Democrats and Republicans. In fact, several aspects of This Land rely on exaggerated characterizations that border on cartoonish. The crazed home invader from the opening scene would make 70s exploitation flicks blush.
All of the adult characters feel like cartoonish caricatures of Democrats and Republicans.
In addition to broad characterizations, most of the performances just barely qualify as passable. While Natalie Whittle reasonably convinces as a woman struggling with trauma, Adam Burch struggles to find much relatable or likable in the extremely progressive Neil. Similarly, John J. Pistone and Mindy Montavon come across as cartoonish version of a Republican family. The less said about Garret Camilleri’s park ranger, the better. Arguably, teen stars Jerod Powers and Taylor Joree Scorse, playing the star-crossed lovers, acquit themselves better than their castmates. As for the thriller’s Aztec cultists,
This Land a Mixed Attempt at Political Horror
Like another recently released thriller, Soft & Quiet, This Land addresses a critically important social issue. And Greenwood and his writers offer up social messaging worthy of consideration. Nevertheless, the execution here leaves something to be desired. From its broad characterizations and performances to an uneven tone, This Land is watchable but not quite as compelling as its subject matter requires. Though it’s final 15 minutes or so find the thriller eventually firing on all cylinders, it’s not quite enough to earn a full endorsement.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+