Thandiwe Newton ventures to the frosted depths of the forest in IFC Films’ “God’s Country,” inspired by James Lee Burke’s short story “Winter Light.” In the film, Newton portrays Sandra Guidry, a college professor living in a rural town while grieving the recent loss of her mother. On the day of the funeral, Sandra finds a mysterious truck parked in her driveway that belongs to hunters looking to hunt on her property. Sandra is soon drawn into a battle of escalating wills in the Western-set thriller.
“God’s Country” is directed Julian Higgins, who co-wrote the screenplay with Shay Ogbonna. Jeremy Bobb, Joris Jarsky, Jefferson White, Kai Lennox, and Tanaya Beatty also star. The film first at 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and is produced by Miranda Bailey, Halee Bernard, Julian Higgins, and Amanda Marshall. Executive producers include Jason Beck and Anthony Ciardelli.
Director Higgins said in a press statement that he and co-writer Ogbonna opted to reimagine the lead character from Burke’s “Winter Light” as a Black woman to “respond to the deep-rooted racism, sexism, and misogyny reflected by the  election results. … We wanted to explore the interaction between a person’s psychology and the social structures around them, especially when norms, institutions, and belief systems fail, as we felt they were.”
Higgins continued, “The idea of changing the protagonist from an older white man to a forty-something Black woman was the spark that really propelled the new adaptation. If [character] Roger Guidry becomes Sandra Guidry, the subtext and meaning and underlying mythologies of the story change completely and allow us to access the themes and feelings we wanted to explore.”
Lead star Newton exclusively told IndieWire during the IndieWire Studio at Sundance presented by Adobe that she initially thought “God’s Country” would be her last film. “I’m 49, and I think I’ve been a successful Black actress for many, many years,” Newton said at the festival. “And it’s been rare for me to have a movie where you follow me for the whole movie. I thought ‘God’s Country’ was my last film as an actress. I was sad that I finally got to do something I really fucking got my teeth into.”
IndieWire’s Christian Zilko reviewed the film out of Sundance, writing, “To describe ‘God’s Country’ as the thriller it’s billed as would be a half-truth, as well. The first act is downright Hitchcockian, setting up a battle of wills between Sandra and two mysterious men who refuse to stop trespassing on her property. But it abruptly shifts course and becomes a leisurely character study that places its lethally high stakes on the back burner in favor of a workplace conundrum. … The film remembers it has a premise to pay off, and snaps back into thriller mode to deliver a violent ending that hits all the harder because of the added context.”
“God’s Country” will be released by IFC Films on Friday, September 16, only in theaters.
Check out the newest trailer and poster for the film, available exclusively on IndieWire, below.