Set in the latter stages of the American Civil War in a Southern state, we meet sisters Augusta (Brit Marling) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld), who, alongside their black slave Mad (Muna Otaru), vehemently vie to protect their home, when they suspect the arrival of two, menacing intruders. Augusta’s suspicions are roused when she stumbles across the a barbaric duo (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) at a nearby saloon, only for them to follow her home, and launch an attack on her property.
Using a similar, effective technique to which we saw in Out of the Furnace, Barber introduces us to the villains of the piece in the very opening scene, when they savagely murder three innocent people, while setting a horse and cart on fire. Not only does it set the tone for what is set to become a disquieting, intense affair – but we know exactly what we’re up against. Two callous, unhinged individuals who have nothing to lose – often the most menacing of movie antagonists.
Barber sets his intentions from this opening sequence, presenting a picture free of any significant context. We know so little about the two men, nor do we know much about Augusta, Louise and Mad, devoid of any real background information. This entire tale takes place over the course of just a short period of time – and it places the viewer in this exact time and place, and we don’t need any other information. All we need to know is that we have intruders and we have protectors. That sets this narrative up and allows Barber enough space to create something compelling and engaging, and he certainly succeeds.
That being said, there is a sense of disgruntlement as we approach the final stages. Suddenly this lack of context which had served the piece so well initially, becomes something of a problem. As the narrative nears its conclusion, it’s at that point we realise we don’t know enough about these three women, leaving us a little emotionally detached. Even Brit Marling wielding a shotgun, which is ineffably cool, is not quite enough to save this particular endeavour from feeling somewhat unfulfilling.