Edge of Winter Can’t See the Suspense for the Trees
Almost worth it for Joel Kinnaman and Tom Holland though. Almost.
Elliot (Joel Kinnaman) is in something of a rough patch. Separated from his wife and kids a few years prior, he struggles to make ends meet on his meager salary from the lumber mill, but that disappears too when he’s let go. He refuses to let his unemployment interfere with a visit with his two boys though, so when the ex and her new husband leave town for a cruise Elliot gets to play father for a week. The boys – teenage Bradley (Tom Holland) and preteen Caleb (Percy Hynes White) – almost immediately find his hunting rifle, and after a quick chastising for playing with guns Elliot suggests they head to the woods for some shooting practice.
Despite his best intentions though, Elliot is in no condition to act as guardian. Tension between the trio rises as the boys argue and their father discovers his ex’s plan to move her new family overseas. He’s a broken man, but he’s about to be beaten down some more by the harsh realities of circumstance and nature.
Director/co-writer Rob Connelly (along with co-writer Kyle Mann) aims to create a suspense thriller with Edge of Winter charting one man’s psychological descent, but while the film’s visuals and performances are often compelling the script flounders resulting in a film that rarely connects.
Elliot is central to the film’s issues. Kinnaman’s performance is fine, and he brings a wounded but resistant attitude to the clearly defeated character, but the film can’t decide if we should empathize with the man or fear him. The result is that we end up doing neither. Elliot may be trying, but it’s clear that he’s both incompetent and something of a prick. The question becomes how much of that is just who he is and how much is the encroaching darkness of mental illness. It’s difficult to care about the former, and we never quite buy the latter.
The boys are put in danger, both from nature and their father’s poor choices, but again, we never truly fear for their safety. When two hunters arrive unexpectedly and trigger Elliot’s unhinged paternal instinct the film tries and fails to position them as possible threats. Instead it’s Elliot’s overreaction that steals the focus and adds to the frustration.
Holland and White are fine in roles that never challenge either actor, but they succeed at showing the sons’ disparate views on good old dad. Caleb holds his father’s masculinity in awe – the gun, the physical living compared to his stepdad’s suburban life – but the crack for him comes once he’s goaded into shooting a rabbit. Bradley seems old enough to remember why dad left in the first place, but as the repeated brunt of the others’ humor his sensitivity and struggle to impress grow tiresome.
Edge of Winter ultimately feels incomplete. The pieces are here for a suspenseful survival tale or a story about growing madness, but the film aims for a combination of the two that simply doesn’t work. On the other hand, seeing as a tree plays a major role in this ex-logger’s desperate situation maybe the movie works after all as a tale of revenge?