If there are two young actresses who are rapidly taking Hollywood by storm then they are most definitely Tessa Thompson and Lily James and now these two actresses find themselves with some seriously dramatic and dark subject matter to really fall into with Little Woods.
Written and directed by newcomer Nia DaCosta, Little Woods is a bold contemporary story that doesn’t hold back on its examination of the poverty and opioid epidemic that is viciously destroying the once wholesome landscape of America’s Midwest. Set in amongst the oil fields of North Dakota, DaCosta presents a landscape that has been ravaged and burned for the sake of easy profits, and the results have had a poisonous effect on the land and those who work it. Her contemporary capture of this film almost has a shade of Mad Max to it as we see the horrors that ordinary people have to face as they try to eek out a living in this barren and deserted place.
DaCosta’s tone for the film is very much in the style of a sad country song, and while watching Little Woods there are moments when you find yourself gripped by extreme sadness and uneasiness as her main character’s try to find their way through the mess of their lives. For DaCosta, this film is very much a collaborative effort, and the director finds considerable support from cinematographer Matt Mitchell, who captures the film with a beautiful stained earthy palette that is rich in browns, greens and blues and suggests a feeling of barrenness and cold to the environment that the story is set in. DaCosta and Mitchell’s framing is also something that should be studied here, and the two collaborators pack the camera in tight to a lot of the action that is affecting our characters, and the director’s intention is very much to focus in on her character’s reaction’s to the dangers that continue to follow them.
In terms of on-screen talent, DaCosta really strikes it lucky here with the presence of Tessa Thompson and Lily James and their roles in Little Woods are unlike anything either actress has ever had to play before. As adopted sisters Ollie (Thompson) and Deb (James), these two girls have drawn some very bad cards from the deck of life. Thompson’s Ollie is a former opioid dealer out on parole who is desperately trying to go straight, while James’ Deb is a struggling single mother whose deadbeat roughneck-ex is impossible to deal with and who finds herself in the midst of a second pregnancy that could prove disastrous to her.
When things suddenly get real and it turns out they will lose their mother’s house, the girls hatch a plan to assemble the money needed to keep the house via Ollie’s opioid dealing and it’s there that things get very interesting. The narrative moves quickly through Ollie’s work as a drug dealer, and soon she finds herself roped into being a drug mule for a local Kingpin who threatens her and her family with all kinds of danger if she doesn’t co-operate and smuggle in drugs from Canada. This new development also leads to a fateful decision for James’ Deb as well, and both girls do whatever they can to get what they need and make it out whole.
As a viewing experience, Little Woods is a piece of cinema that absolutely keeps you on edge, and there are moments when you’ll be on the edge of your seat, hoping and praying that either Ollie or Deb is able to scrape through. It’s cinema in it’s most raw film and DaCosta has a very good hand at understanding the speed and fluidity of suspense.
But while there is a lot of edge of your seat moments, Little Woods is also a powerful film about the importance of family and connection, and how having someone to believe in you can absolutely make it alright in the end. Both Ollie and Deb have to go through plenty of suffering in the film’s narrative, but they are always there for one another and it is this wholesomeness and love that really make this film a worthy watch.
Little Woods is a piece of cinema not for the faint of heart, but for those wanting to experience a powerfully charged drama of emotion and high stakes, along with looking to encourage talent who are at the top of their game, then it is a film I highly recommend you see.