It’s kind of funny how easy it is to tell that something like Little Woods was written and directed by a female director (and an incredibly talented one, at that) when compared to something like the Game of Thrones finale, huh?
Slowly but surely finding its way into theaters, Little Woods is an itty-bitty independent film that comes from writer and director Nia DaCosta.
Little Woods is the first feature film that DaCosta has made, but — presumably because of how good this turned out — she’s now attached to direct the upcoming Candyman reboot with Jordan Peele.
After seeing Little Woods, I can now say that I have all the faith in the world in that Candyman movie.
Set right beside the United States and Canadian border in North Dakota, Little Woods is a modern day western (think No Country for Old Men or Hell or High Water) that follows two down-on-their-luck sisters — Ollie (Avengers: Endgame’s Tessa Thompson, aka a goddess among men) and Deb Hale (Baby Driver’s Lily James).
For some time now, Ollie has been trying to make ends meet while living in her mother’s house.
In a former life, Ollie used to be a drug dealer, but after being caught when returning from Canada and then forced into probation, she wore she would give all of that up for good. After all, it’s just too risky, and getting busted again could really mess things up for her.
The downside to putting all of that behind her, however, is the lack of income. Given the lack of work in the area, Ollie is forced to turn to a number of different odd jobs — thing like laundry or delivering coffee to construction workers — just to try and make some money.
Money is something she desperately needs, too. While Ollie doesn’t have to worry about medical bills anymore as her mother just recently passed away, her mother’s house is just days away from foreclosure.
So what, right? It’s just a house? Surely Ollie can just, like, move away as soon as she’s done with probation?
That’s where Deb comes into play.
Deb and her young son, Jonny (Charlie Ray Reid), need a place to stay after the trailer they were living in was unexpectedly towed. With no real financial support coming from Jonny’s father, Ian (James Badge Dale, who is EXCELLENT in this movie), the only option they have is that house.
The bank gives says that they have seven days to come up with a couple of thousand dollars. Ollie, ironically, is only eight days away from the end of her probation (with her probation officer being played by John Wick 3’s Lance Reddick, who’s charming as ever here). While she’s already got a job lined up in Washington and plans to leave the minute she can, Ollie knows that she can’t walk away just yet.
The only way to leave her past life once and for all, as it turns out, is to embrace it one last time.
Hearing the synopsis for Little Woods, it might sound like the kind of movie or show you’ve seen before. Maybe something like The Mule (only hopefully, you know, way better) or Out of the Furnace, with a little Breaking Bad and Wind River thrown in there to boot?
I thought the same thing upon seeing the trailer and, for the first twenty minutes, more or less thought that was indeed the movie I was in for. After we hit that twenty-minute mark, however, I quickly realized that Little Woods was not at all what I expected and that I had no idea where this thing was headed — and all the better for it.
What Little Woods ends up being, then, is an incredibly intense, well-thought out and really tightly written story about what it takes to survive in modern-day America.
Now, there are a couple of different factors that go into that. On one level, this movie focuses in on the bond that Ollie and Deb have with one another, how they’re both dependent and co-dependent at the same time and how they are both, in a sense, survivors. That’s great, and it works largely because of the incredible performances and chemistry between Thomspon and James — both of whom, I believe, are Oscar-worthy, even if this movie likely won’t get the attention it needs/deserves to make that happen.
On a whole other level, though, this movie is also taking some pretty noticeable social stances on things like health insurance, the opioid epidemic, abortion, the state of the economy, etc. All of that is handled in a really clever, delicate way — there are certain messages that DaCosta wants to put out there, but she doesn’t ever beat you over the head with any of them.
Really, you can’t give enough credit to DaCosta for how she captures this whole landscape, either. Whether it’s the way that she films the vast landscape or how she writes these complicated characters in these complicated situations — even the ones who you might not like — Little Woods feels like a movie that’s thought out from start to finish, and that’s all because of her.
For example, there’s this scene that I’m kind of in love with where Ollie goes to meet a drug dealer played by Luke Kirby (who is much, much better here than he was in that recent Twilight Zone episode), but she has to bring Jonny along with her. Kirby has a daughter of his own who he seemingly loves and cares for, so before the two of them head outside to take care of their business, they have to make sure the kids are situated, comfortable and have everything they need. Even as they’re walking out the door, Ollie yells something like, “And remember to cover your mouth if you cough, Jonny.”
Some directors would play that for laughs or absurdity. DaCosta, however, uses it to illustrate this tale’s humanity.
The ending is one that is, admittedly, going to be polarizing. Some people will love it and some will be incredibly frustrated by where it cuts off. I, personally, think it’s brilliant. In fact, this is a “Brandon” kind of ending if there ever was one, as almost all of my favorite movies end in a similar kind of fashion. Sure, it might be a little abrupt and leave you with some questions of what happens next, but what happens next isn’t really the point of Little Woods, either — the film is about the journey the characters take to get to that point.
I’m in awe of Little Woods and desperately wish more people would take a chance on it. It might not be playing in a lot of theaters and you might have to wait until it hits a streaming service to check it out, but it’s not one that you’re going to want to miss.
Check out the trailer for Little Woods here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!
'Little Woods' - The little indie gem you didn't know you needed [REVIEW]10