Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone is an unflinching and harrowing portrayal of life in the Ozark Mountains in central US. Seventeen year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) works hard raising her younger brother and sister in her father’s absence and her mother’s near-catatonia. When she finds that her father has not only failed to appear in court but that he used their house as a surety, she makes it her mission to find him before her family loses what little they have.
A tourism ad for the Ozarks this ain’t. The Dollys are surrounded by violent, drug dealing men and their subservient, battered women. The Ozarks are apparently beyond the reach of the long arm of the law – there are even places in which the Sheriff won’t set foot for fear of being cut up and fed to the hogs. Ree must plead and negotiate her way through this treacherous society in an attempt to do what’s best for her family.
I don’t hesitate to call Winter’s Bone a kind of horror film. All the stuff we saw in films like Wrong Turn, Dying Breed and Deliverance is here – it just feels more… real. It is truly terrifying seeing this brave girl head out into dangerous territory, never knowing if she’ll return. Jennifer Lawrence gives an incredible performance. Ree is a wonderful character – caring and headstrong, even when the rest of us would be paralysed with fear. She’s matched by John Hawkes as her uncle Teardrop, in a performance light years away the likeable dorks he’s played in Me and You and Everyone We Know and ‘Deadwood’. Teardrop is one scary, spindly, backwoods motherf*cker that you wouldn’t want to go up against unless you were safely ensconced in a Sherman tank or some such.
I truly hope that this isn’t a realistic portrayal of life in the Ozarks, but Winter’s Bone is certainly convincing. It’s a powerful depiction of a society where women are nothing more than punching bags and baby factories, and whilst the film didn’t make overt references to incest, you do get the creepy feeling that everyone is related to everyone else.
Despite such a bleak setting, Winter’s Bone doesn’t simply revel in despair, and is thankfully nothing like watching films like Gummo. This is an intriguing tale – part mystery, part drama, and perhaps could be classified as hillbilly noir. It all hinges on Lawrence’s stunning performance and some beautifully written dialogue that manages to make foul-mouthed slang sound like poetry. The only disappointment is perhaps that the film never gives the audience exactly what it wants – which is, paradoxically, also a blessing.Rating: