‘God’s Country’ review: Thandiwe Newton stuns in this icy neo-Western

Thandiwe Newton as "Sandra Guidry" in Julian Higgins’ GOD’S COUNTRY. Courtesy of Ezra Olson. An IFC Films release.

Editor's note: This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival on Feb. 4, 2022. It has been expanded and republished in light of the film's debut in theaters on Sept. 16.

Judging from the logline, you’d be forgiven for confusing "God’s Country" with the kind of remote revenge thriller Liam Neeson trots out most Januarys. But the grim beauty of Julian Higgins’ uncompromising, patient debut comes from how elegantly it blends its thriller bona fides with a rich character study. It’s a thoughtful look at a woman who puts her faith in the systems she engages in — education, law enforcement — only for them to fail her utterly.

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About "God’s Country": A new kind of Western for a "Westworld" star

Thandiwe Newton has long been an actress of tremendous poise, power and vulnerability, and she’s particularly adept at playing characters who could break your nose and fill your heart in the same conversation. She keeps that hot streak alive with a beautiful turn as Sandra, a onetime New Orleans resident now working as a college professor in an isolated mountain town. 


Courtesy of GC Film, LLC. An IFC Films release.

Even as the only Black woman around, subject to misogynoir (racism and sexism) both overt and covert, she won’t cede the high ground. "We all gotta play by the same rules if this is gonna work," she tells a hostile group of loggers. For the rest of the film, Higgins’ probing camera and Newton’s bravura performance show us the naïveté of that hope, even as the put-upon Sandra refuses to play the role of helpless victim when two hunters start trespassing on her property.

WATCH FREE ON TUBI: Thandiwe Newton in the horror thriller "Vanishing on 7th Street"get the app

Higgins’ visual style is remarkably assured for a debut filmmaker, capturing the icy whites and desolate blues of the film’s remote mountain setting with compositions that accentuate Sandra’s isolation in a predominantly white town. And the ending is a one-two punch of fully-earned despair, with a closing shot that will stick with you long after the credits roll. 

Grade: A-

Rated R. 102 minutes. Dir: Julian Higgins. Featuring: Thandiwe Newton, Jeremy Bobb, Joris Jarsky, Jefferson White, Kai Lennox, Tanaya Beatty.

About the writer: Clint Worthington is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, and a Senior Writer at Consequence. You can find his other work at Vulture, Nerdist, RogerEbert.com, and elsewhere.

Make it a double feature with "Coyote Lake," streaming free on Tubi

Coyote Lake (2019): "Riverdale" star Camila Mendes and Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza lead this psychological thriller about a mother/daughter duo who run a a bed-and-breakfast near the border between the U.S. and Mexico. When two unwanted guests arrive, all hell breaks loose — and not just because of the newcomers. It turns out mother and daughter have a big secret of their own, and it threatens to upend everything. Rated TV-MA. 93 minutes. Dir: Sara Seligman. Also featuring Charlie Weber, Neil Sandilands, Manny Perez.

"Coyote Lake" is streaming for free on Tubiget the app

How to watch "God’s Country"

"God’s Country" debuts in theaters on Sept. 16. It will be available On Demand starting Oct. 4.

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