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Movie Review: 'Redland'

A dark as dirt Depression-era drama but its undernourished narrative puts it on common ground with many of its digital cousins.

March 11, 2011|By Sheri Linden
  • Mark Aaron in a scene from the movie "Redland."
Mark Aaron in a scene from the movie "Redland." (Zyzak Film Company )

Dark as dirt, the Depression-era drama "Redland" opens with an act of terrible self-violence and maintains a tone of misery and dread for much of its running time. There's undeniable beauty too in much of the imagery in this ambitious first film, but if its gutsy, handmade aesthetic makes it unfashionable among American indies, the undernourished narrative puts it on common ground with many of its digital cousins.

Hardscrabble would be a step up for the family at the center of the story. Living in extreme rustic isolation in Northern California, they're one disaster from starvation. But the taciturn father is as determined to punish the young man who's been sleeping with his daughter as he is to feed his kin. He embarks on a hunting trip that will achieve at least one of those goals.

The actors deliver what's required within their narrowly defined roles, but performances are almost beside the point in what essentially is a tone poem. Director Asiel Norton and cinematographer Zoran Popovic create a dreamscape in the primordial undergrowth of the redwood forest.

Their widescreen 35mm impressionism — lots of ocher and sepia haze and many scenes shot so close that the subjects are abstract blurs — has a rough-hewn power that becomes a wearying form of excess, especially when there's so little to latch onto in the characters.

Reaching for Terrence Malick territory, the voice-over narration ("Ma says it was the devil that made me. And Pa don't say nothin'.") just feels faux.


"Redland." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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