Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok) and Lily James are terrific as adoptive sisters running pharmaceuticals across the border to keep their heads above water in this gripping backwoods thriller from writer/director Nia DaCosta.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2018
Set in a fracking boomtown in North Dakota, Little Woods’ wide-open prairies are inhabited by people who have little room to move. Trapped by poverty and failed by a broken health system, for them it’s hard work for little return. First-time writer/director Nia DaCosta has drawn a rich world of dynamic characters, complex relationships, and hard choices that recalls Winter’s Bone. She expertly draws on crime movie tropes to tell an important story: that of the female rural poor.
Everyone is after OxyContin, but Ollie (Tessa Thompson) isn’t selling it anymore. She hawks only coffee and sandwiches to cold men at cold worksites. She’s almost completed probation after being caught smuggling Canadian prescription meds, mainly for her terminally ill mum, over the nearby border. Her mum has now passed away and she’s grieving, but things might finally be looking up; with support from her probation officer there’s the possibility of a new job in a new town. But that all changes when her adoptive sister Deb (Lily James), a struggling solo mother with a dropkick ex, finds out she’s pregnant and in need of a place to live. The sisters need $3,000 to save the family home and there’s only one way to get that sort of money. When Deb realises she cannot have the baby, it turns out that finding a safe abortion is just as difficult.
The sisterly bond between Ollie and Deb is at the heart of this story. Deftly handled by DaCosta, Little Woods is a tense watch that illuminates many aspects of the US political zeitgeist from a strong female perspective. This is deeply felt cinema, a directorial debut that is not to be missed. — Catherine Bisley
“Nia DaCosta’s haunting directorial debut, Little Woods, is the latest incarnation of the Western, a potent slow-burning thriller that taps into the economic devastation that has wracked middle America for the past few decades. And anchored by two incredible performances by stars Tessa Thompson and Lily James, Little Woods becomes an intimate and painfully now film that gives us a glimpse of the evolution of a genre primarily populated by hypermasculine men.” — Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm.com