Directed by Mona Fastvold, written by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, somewhere along the mid-19th century American East Coast frontier, two farmers’ wives find themselves irrevocably drawn to each other. Starring: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbott and Casey Affleck.
It’s not hard to imagine that many women would have sought out the company of other women in a landscape of only toil and tedium. It seems only natural that a character like Abigail (Katherine Waterston), with no outlet for her intelligence and curiosity would gravitate to someone like Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) with a more worldly presence. Through that natural connection of a common thirst for knowledge, sympathy and a kind ear, grows a strong chemistry. However, it’s not strong enough for the story’s ultimate detour into an intimate, sexual arena. In fact it feels as though it cheapens their relationship, as it’s dealt with in a rushed and half-hearted manner. The story builds a slow, understated and somewhat bleak tone, so when it tries to up the drama and intensify their affection, it feels out of place.
An element which holds it back from being able to embrace a larger love story is the overall style, the visual and the way that it moves feel dulled. It does well to reflect the humble stylings of their lives but that clashes with wanting to build a romance and add a heat when it doesn’t have the room to expand. Sadly, at times it even feels bland, it goes neither for a sharpness or a warmth, it lands somewhere in the middle, with nothing to set its style apart or make an impact. There’s simply no personality to the direction and it isn’t helped by a poor score. It could have helped to support the romantic side but instead it’s completely at odds and doesn’t blend at all into the rest of the film, it’s messy and clumsy.
Those issues then limit what the actors can achieve here, they can’t spark what this film needs through performance alone. Katherine Waterston is consistent as ever, she always brings a strong presence and here uses that to show Abigail’s resilience and intelligence. She displays a classic quality of a character that has unused potential, born in the wrong time to achieve all they could. Waterston has had memorable performances in a range of different genres but she’s yet to find the film to really capitalise on her talent and this isn’t it. Vanessa Kirby on the other hand has a consistent struggle to bring a more rounded quality to her characters, she has a tendency to be quite stiff and misses out on a more natural charm. The introduction to Tallie feels quite cold, it almost makes you wonder if she’s sincere or preparing a plan to manipulate Abigail, thankfully that fades as their connection grows.
Casey Affleck portrays what is possibly the most progressive example of a husband of that time, the writing definitely deserves credit for including a compassionate, understanding and accommodating man. There’s certainly a beaten down quality Affleck brings to Dyer but it’s balanced with a loving patience, he doesn’t get a huge part of the story but what he does get, has a lot to add. Christopher Abbott consistently excels in dark roles, he has a sinister edge which flows easily and plentifully. He barely has to say anything to achieve the impression they’re going for with Finney and what he does say is layered with violent, menacing intent.
The World to Come sadly can’t quite achieve the stirring lesbian romance it’s going for. Its moments of friendship are much more touching than those of romance, and the direction, score and cinematography sadly just don’t have the ability to push that further. It moves in a slow, sad and often bleak manner, capturing its time well but eventually undercutting what its story tries to accomplish. The performances are undoubtedly the strongest element it has to offer but there’s only so much they can do and as a whole, it falls short.