JESUS CHRIST. Like Deliverance, Winter's Bone will make urbanites never ever want to venture into the woods. Ever. Fucked-up shit happens out there, you guys. And like The Road—a book and film with which it shares a few similarities—Winter's Bone is bleak, wearying, and haunting. It'll wear you down as you watch it, and after it ends it'll clatter around in your head for days—but it'll do so in all the best ways.
Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell and solidly directed by Debra Granik, Winter's Bone takes place deep in the poverty-stricken woods of the Ozarks, underneath gray skies and surrounded by dead leaves. Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (a phenomenal Jennifer Lawrence) is burdened with a damaged mother who's unable to do much of anything, not to mention two younger siblings to feed; spending her days scavenging for food, Ree holds on by her fingernails to a life that, frankly, hardly seems worth living.
Things get worse when the local sheriff (Garret Dillahunt, badass as ever) gives Ree some bad news: Her meth-cooking father is MIA, and due in court in a week. Ree's father also put up the family's property for his bail bond—if he doesn't surface, what little the Dollys have will be snatched out from under them. So the reserved, tough Ree trudges off through the cold and mud, aiming to find her father—and quickly learning that she's not nearly reserved nor tough enough to venture into a world of rural drug dealers and dangerous secrets.
Aside from a few moments of brief but jarring violence, Winter's Bone follows Ree with a steady, even gaze: As Ree delves deeper and deeper into a network of terrifying backwoods hicks—first alone, then alongside her sketchy uncle Teardrop (an excellent John Hawkes)—a creeping sense of inevitable doom festers and grows. This place, this world, is not welcoming. It is dark, vicious, and unfair. All that Ree can hope for is to survive, and even that might be too much to ask.