Life is tough for a pair of adult sisters in Little Woods.
Ollie (Tessa Thompson) and her estranged sibling Deb (Lily James) live in the economically depressed fracking town of Little Woods, North Dakota. Deb has a young son with a deadbeat dad (James Badge Dale). Mother and son live illegally in a caravan that they simply moved into when the last occupants left. Ollie, meanwhile, is in their mother’s house. Ollie is but days away from seeing out her probation after getting caught illegally running prescription pills over the Canadian border.
She’s clean and aims to stay that way, scraping by as best she can. She is eyeing a potential new job outside the small town. But after the bank is pressuring her to settle the mortgage on her mother’s property or face foreclosure. Then Deb re-enters her life. As bills and tensions mount, Ollie faces a choice: return to a way of life she thought she’d left behind for just one more score or leave it all behind. And Ollie is not alone in having to choose. Deb, too, is facing a personal crisis.
Little Woods is a quiet thriller from first time feature film writer and director Nia DaCosta. Inequities abound, especially when it comes to healthcare and reproductive rights. The desperation of seemingly decent, intelligent people is apparent. When there is no palatable way out, what do you do? DaCosta has woven a compelling story, informed by two strong performances from Thompson and James.
The low-rent nature of the piece is also well captured by cinematographer Matt Mitchell. Importantly, I was never sure about the outcome until the final frames. I cheered for the protagonists, but adversity had a way of hounding them.
Director: Nia DaCosta
Cast: Tessa Thompson, Lily James, James Badge Dale, Lance Reddick
Release Date: 16 May 2019 (limited)
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.