Winter’s Bone Review

I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic settings, so I was really looking forward to seeing Winter’s Bone – a film apparently set some years after The Road, in a world ravaged by elemental forces where the survivors have just started to band together, build primitive huts and are working on rebuilding the human race. Except Winter’s Bone is not actually set in some desolate post-apocalyptic future, but is set in the desolate pre-apocalyptic present, in some area of America called the Ozarks that Google claims looks idyllic and pleasant, but Winter’s Bone portrays as some sort of frozen dirty hell where people live in ramshackle settlements that appear to have been sneezed across the landscape by a lazy typhoon and everyone vacuums up drugs like Mr Snuffleupagus on a week-long crank bender while stroking their shotguns and glaring. I really doubt these people even have decent broadband coverage, let alone power-showers.

And yet, somehow, life finds a way. Jennifer Lawrence plays 17 year-old ‘Ree’ – which is barely a name but considering there are other characters called ‘Teardrop’ and ‘Thump’, she is quite a long way ahead of the curve. Ree ‘carries the fire’ – a good person in a world where hillbilly types literally want to take your children and gaggles of chainsaw-wielding witches haunt the swamps. I found the characters and the world they lived in fascinating – hillbillies are rarely seen in films except perhaps as as comedy parodies or as monsters in horror films like Deliverance. Which is not to say that Winter’s Bone is a horror film – though threat of violence is ever-present – just that the setting feels really unfamiliar: I had no idea whereabouts in America the Ozarks even were, and I am not exaggerating when I say it looks like the same ruined world as The Road (although I don’t think The Road was filmed anywhere near). It’s strange to think that people still live like this in America, though I think we are seeing one of the more extreme cases of poverty and isolation in Winter’s Bone: Ree is on the verge of losing her house and all her possessions, even potentially her family as she may be forced to give her younger brother and sister away to be raised by people with marginally more money – as she says, the next step down the property ladder is living in a cave.

Winter’s Bone is an excellent film, the hopelessness of the situation and the alien environment should be crushingly miserable, but Ree perseveres on her mission to find her missing father. She’s pragmatic and dogmatic and doesn’t get disheartened despite having to go to some pretty bleak places and rarely finding anyone that isn’t hostile to her, let alone that will help her, all the while trying to teach her younger brother and sister how to cook and hunt and survive in case they ever need to do it for themselves. It’s a really great performance: she’s fearless despite the toothless troll people she has to deal with and the big-eared boys she has to stand up to. Also fantastic are John Hawkes as the notorious Teardrop and Dale Dickey as Merab, the matriarch of the most powerful hillbilly clan – they not really the horror movie cliches I have been describing them as, though they are undoubtedly horrifying – these are not people you would want to ever meet, let alone have to deal with when they got angry. Yet both have a lot of depth and humanity – albeit a battered and desperate humanity – and these two performances especially helped elevate the film to something quite remarkable. Easily one of the best films of last year.

7 Comments on “Winter’s Bone Review

  1. I do believe that this world exists (and I’m a bit surprised that Jake knew so little about it – but he redeemed himself with his later comments).
    This type of life exists in many parts of the world and in several cultures & sub-cultures, where people live by basic laws (such as family ties and the need to be tough). But they have the spark of humanity.
    Ree was living by the rules but also wanting something better, especially for her brother & sister.
    There are people like her living good and courageous lives in places that outwardly look unattractive & bleak.

  2. I love watching films about places or time periods that I know nothing about and even though I don’t know about loooaaads of things, it’s still quite rare for a film to have an setting that differs so drastically from the norm. It was a culture shock – like watching City of God or something.

    I knew nothing about the Ozarks (I should say that I have never been to America) and I’ve not really seen any other films with a similar setting or about similar people: except perhaps stereotypes of rural American types in horror or comedy films. I am sure there are plenty of other parts of North America I know nothing about either and would love to see films about.

  3. I don’t have much in the way of commentary, given I have yet to see the movie. However I would like to say, I live in the Ozarks. Born and raised. We are not all backwards hillbillies and we do, in fact, have access to all them there fancy privileges y’all up there in Californie (or wherever it is you hail from) enjoy. 😉

    • Well in the film it all looks like the second screenshot I posted, just utterly desolate. And every character is a murderous Meth addict. I’m glad to hear it’s not all like that. You should watch it and see if you think it is a fair representation.

  4. I live in the Ozarks more specifically the Branson area where this film was shot and i promise u this was a GROSS misrepresentation of our area we r not all backwoods dwelling, child neglecting, pot smoking, meth heads who can’t hold a job in fact our area has been called a small Las Vegas this film was made just a few miles from the a booming tourist attractions of Branson and these film makers should b shot for giving the country this perception of a hard working god fearing people. And i assure u the images u saw on Google r far more accurate then what u saw in this movie yes there is poverty here just like in any other area but we are civilized people!

    • It’s a movie. They weren’t trying to portray the Ozards in any specific way. They were painting a setting for the movie and used the Ozards as a locale.

      Please get over yourself. The film makers did a good job and you’re just pissed because part of you thinks this was actually an accurate portrayal and you’re embarrassed as FUCK to be living in a place like this.

    • I actually thought this was supposed to be an accurate depiction, so you are RIGHT to be mad. The film has a gritty feel to it, and we tend to associate the type of movie-making [austere, serious, devoid of humor] as more real life. Notice they deleted a lot of things from the movie, like modern telecommunications [e.g. cellphones/smartphones & the internet], to really add to the old-world feel of the whole thing. Not knowing much about this particular area, I would have thought that this IS roughly what the place and inhabitants are like. It seems very third world. If it’s true that the place is more like Vegas, you have plenty of room to be upset. I’ve only seen the Ozarks through Google images, and it looked utterly beautiful and stunning. Certainly this movie gives it a totally different tint.

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