In the form of a lone black woman grieving her mother’s demise while trying to keep the world at bay; God’s Country delivers the icy stabs of a subtle atmospheric thriller that does not rely on the dramatique to be tense throughout. The quasi-western mystery-thriller surpasses the socio-political intricacies and the nuanced elements of the human psyche that were explored in “Winter Light”; the short story that it’s adapted from.

From introducing a quietly alarming setting in the start and ending it at the peak of perturbation; the movie ensures the presence of tense air all around as we observe and root for the protagonist. Director/ Co-writer Julian Higgins’ feature debut is everything one would look for in an experience that is disturbing without using gimmicky extremities as a crutch.

God’s Country (2022) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

The movie begins at the acceptance stage of Sandra’s (Thandiwe Newton) grief; her mother’s cremation. Sandra, who is evidently not one for giving herself a break, buries her mother’s ashes, tries to bury the grief along with it, and gets on with work. She teaches public speaking at the town college in western Montana and is beloved by her students. Her house which she shares with nobody else other than her dog stands over the creepy lonesome canyon that’s covered in snow.

The tone of tension that’s constant since the start, meets its tangible manifestation when Sandra finds a red hunter’s truck parked on her driveway. A seemingly non-threatening incident as that may appear to be, especially considering how casually her colleague and neighbor Arthur (Kai Lennox) took it; growing paranoia is the only understandable reaction from a black woman living in a white-majority town all alone; especially when the setting is taken into account. The smile on her face when she sees a fawn on her morning run is suggestive of how she would naturally feel a general discomfort about hunters.

Her anxiety is made worse when the trespassing truck is again seen on her driveway the following day but this time she confronts the hunters Nathan (Joris Jarsky) and Samuel (Jefferson White) and asks them to stay off her property. While Nathan’s approach towards her is relatively nervous and polite; Samuel’s is that of underlying hints of discrimination. The darkness of each day finds its fitting end in the haunting atmosphere made up of her grief awakening with the not-so-distant howls from the woods.

As was clear from the manner of the exchange that they will not back off; the hunters keep coming back and that results in the risky action of her breaking into their truck and towing it. They retaliate in the style that is expected from the ever-so-aggressive white male from the American west. Sandra’s night is terrorized by the arrow that they shot into her door. Her reasonable fear along with her logical measure of collecting the evidence is once again dismissed and slightly even ridiculed by the only sheriff’s deputy in town, Wolf (Jeremy Bobb).

Ignoring his relaxed approach, Sandra insists on accompanying him as he goes to visit Nathan to give him a warning. While the outcome of the first visit seems to be fruitful; Sandra and Wolf are met by a group of masked men when they try to find Samuel. The encounter yielding the possibility of a violent escalation, reveals that one of the men is a cousin to the man who was wrongfully shot in the leg by the town sheriff and is now enjoying a formal leave in the manner of a vacation. The situation, however, is resolved by Sandra’s skillful and calm style of communication which puts Wolf’s reaction to shame.

After being brushed off repeatedly by Arthur; Sandra decides to follow Nathan’s truck and finds him visiting his mother and accompanying her to church. There’s a distinct tonal shift when Sandra enters the church and sees Nathan’s mother playing the organ and that shift is delineated in the conversation she has with him. Sandra shows her vulnerable side for the first time when she reveals that her late mother was also an organist at their church and she also used to play the same song that Nathan’s mother is playing.

Joris Jarsky as “Nathan” and Thandiwe Newton as “Sandra Guidry” in Julian Higgins’ GOD’S COUNTRY. Courtesy of Ezra Olson. An IFC Films release

The genuinely heartfelt conversation about the unhappiness that the two mothers have endured in their lives, comes to an end when Nathan is visibly uncomfortable and stand-offish and Sandra is asked to leave. Her frustration then leads her to Samuels’s door where she’s met with disgusting lewdness.

More about Sandra’s past that would throw some light on her nature and her grief is disclosed when she runs into Wolf at the Christmas party in Arthur’s home. When asked about her New Orleans life, she says that she was a cop who was let down by the department’s discrimination and that her mother’s resistance to relocating ended with her horrific death in a hurricane.

The subtle hints about Arthur not being as decent as he tries to present himself to be are broadened when his assistant Gretchen (Tanaya Beatty) reveals his sexually inappropriate actions towards her. Arthur reacts in the expected privilege-ignorant demeanor that reeks of internalized racism when Sandra confronts him about racial inequity in their employment process. Her promise of discretion is broken as she attacks Arthur with the knowledge of his sexual misconduct.

It is made evident that the awfulness in the town runs in packs and she can expect no help or protection from anybody other than herself. As an isolated black woman who would not stay silent in the face of injustice and wickedness, Sandra’s world is of anxiety and paranoia; a world where the dangers increase with or without brave resistance.

God’s Country (2022) Movie Review:

The story of an ever-escalating battle between a woman protecting her rights and two trespassers who will stop at nothing is used shrewdly as a foreground for speaking up against racism, misogyny, and intolerance in the country of God that’s supposed to practice “love thy neighbor”. The presentation of the socio-political elements is more organic and thought-provoking than didactic.

Co-writers Higgings and Shaye Ogbonna’s mastery in creating an atmosphere of fear that has to be sensed instead of seen, sets the mood for the expected aggravation of both anxiety and anger. A grand, isolated setting complements the ominous cinematography that brilliantly uses the cold vastness of wintry mountains to depict a quiet upsurge of terror. The score plays a significant part in binding it all together in order to achieve the perfect ambiance for a story this severe.

Every aspect of Thandiwe Newton’s performance is to be applauded for flawlessly communicating the struggle within Sandra, the grief that engulfs her, and the anger that drives and hardens her defenses. The quiet, gradually revelatory style of storytelling seamlessly unfolds not only the backstories but also the nuanced realities of the superficial face of liberalism. The characters designated to be the representation of bigotry in the “great” country, are written with the kind of pragmatism that doesn’t mollycoddle.

It is Higgins’ great achievement to get inspired by the original short story about the masculine power struggle between a man and two trespassers and replace the motive with a greater conflict that is of much more importance and relevance.

God’s Country (2022) Movie Ending, Explained:

Thandiwe Newton as “Sandra Guidry” in Julian Higgins’ GOD’S COUNTRY. Courtesy of GC Film, LLC. An IFC Films release.

Does Sandra get justice?

The silent uprising of terror that sneaks up like an animal only keeps getting more frightening with each encounter Sandra has with the two hunters. With every intrusion and blatant disrespect she faces, her anger and frustration harden her in a way that diminishes her self-protective instincts to some extent. She’s devastated to hear a shot fired and finds the lifeless body of the fawn on the back of the truck.

Arthur’s favorable tone towards the hunters triggers her even further. However, what sets all of their fates, is the slap she places on Samuel’s face when he tries to humiliate her. Given the circumstances, her action reflects the incautiousness of someone who feels that she has nothing to lose. The effect of all the unfairness she has evidently faced in her life starts to emerge in the form of rage. It’s not that she doesn’t expect some form of retaliation; at that point, she simply doesn’t care.

The hunters shoot and kill her dog to avenge the slap. As she is breaking down and apologizing to her dead dog, we are reminded of her apology to Gretchen when she betrayed her trust in a moment of rage. The loss numbs her to the point of no coming back. She plans on killing the hunters but backs out at the last moment and settles for stealing the fawn’s body.

When the rally of cars come looking for her in the manner that seems to be mirroring the olden days of villagers with pitchforks marching to capture the “witch”, Sandra is engrossed in digging a grave for the fawn. Unable to find her; Samuel sets her house on fire and howls in excitement. When the seriousness of the situation dawns on Nathan, he punches Samuel in rage.

Bigotry has taken everything from Sandra. For someone whose days start with fear and end with the hauntings of the flood that took her mom; there’s no sense of peace or safety. And by stripping away everything that she cares about, they set free the uncontrollable fury that’s been growing within her.

The culmination of the tension that has been building up throughout, is expectedly vengeful and deadly. It’s the moment of truth. Sandra follows Nathan and Samuel to Samuel’s house. Keeping in touch with the subtlety of the tone, we are allowed only the sounds of what’s going on inside and not the visuals. As the two are heard relaxing after their night of monstrous indulgence of white male privilege; Sandra enters the house with a shotgun and takes her revenge in cold blood.

She comes out, sits down, opens a can of beer, and chugs it down. The look on her face is of someone who is relaxed. Perhaps ending their life and diminishing the immediate threat can be good enough for a minute, considering how dreadful her experience has been. The satisfaction of seeing them meet their well-deserved fate is undeniable. However; the fatal revenge is all Sandra is going to get. Needless to say, she will have to pay dearly for her crime in a country that will disregard her suffering and ignore its own inability to protect her.

Read More: Goodnight Mommy (2022): Movie Review & Ending Explained

God’s Country (2022) Movie Trailer

God’s Country (2022) Movie Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
God’s Country (2022) Movie Cast – Thandiwe Newton, Joris Jarsky, Jefferson White, Tanaya Beatty, Kai Lennox, Jeremy Bobb
Where to watch God's Country

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