God’s Country is a great piece of storytelling and a rewarding cinematic experience; it ranks among the best features at Sundance 2022.

Sundance Film Review: God’s Country


Sundance Film Review: God’s Country
Director: Julian Higgins

Cold Iron Pictures
Premieres: 01.23 at 9:00 p.m. MST

Last year was an extraordinary one for the westerns. If God’s County director Julian Higgins’ moody and provocative modern spin on the genre is any indication, 2022 is going to be another one.

Thandiewe Newton stars in God’s Country as Sandra Guidry, a college professor in a small rural town. Sandra is still processing the death of her mother, a stubborn woman for whom nothing Sandra ever did was good enough. Sandra hardly needs any more reasons to feel discouraged, but the casual racism, sexism and toxic masculinity she finds herself surrounded by are pushing her are slowly testing away at her. When two hunters, Samuel and Nathan Cody, played by Jefferson White and Joris Jarsky, respectively, trespass on her property, Sandra finds her patience tested to it’s limits. When the two men decide to see how far they can push her, the situation turns into a battle of wills. Sandra’s grief and anger build to breaking point, and the two have no idea who they are dealing with here.

Higgins co-wrote the screenplay with Shaye Ogbonna, adapting James Lee Burke‘s short story Winter Light. Higgins knows how to direct a thriller, and he builds the tension expertly with the help of DeAndre James Allen-Toole’s brilliant score and the sharp editing skills of Justin Laforge. God’s Country is masterfully done, and quite an accomplishment for its director, but it is the film’s central character and performance that drives it. Sandra’s weariness and frustration are easy to understand, and she tries hard to seek a resolution through diplomacy and communication, which also makes her easy to admire. Newton is a powerhouse actress with a commanding presence and incredible range—she may be the only actor alive who can play an Audrey Hepburn type or a Clint Eastwood type with a level of equal believability—and it’s hard to imagine God’s Country being half as good with anyone else in the role. 

Behind Newton, the supporting cast is excellent all around: Jeremy Bobb (Godless, Russian Doll) gives a strong performance as the town’s exasperated active Sheriff, Gus Wolf, the only person even resembling an ally that Sandra has in the story. Moreover, Jarsky’s Nathan is a conflicted character who is as intriguing as Sandra herself.  

The social and political commentary of God’s Country is a constant and effective presence, but the slow build requires a certain amount of patience from the audience as it favors nuance and atmosphere over action. There is violence, but rather than being glorified, it’s treated with a feeling of dread and sadness. Newton’s fiery performance kept me glued to the screen, and the payoff is both satisfying and disturbing, building to an ending sequence that is destined to be studied in film schools for years to come. 

God’s Country is a great piece of storytelling and a rewarding cinematic experience; it ranks among the best dramatic narrative features in this year’s festival. If it’s able to build up enough word of mouth and Newton gets the Special Jury Award for Acting that I believe she deserves, it might just go on to some serious recognition. Either way, I’m looking forward to Higgins’ follow up film with great anticipation. –Patrick Gibbs