Eight actors. That’s how many are billed for the entirety of Edge of Winter. But even that small number is a bit misleading. 85% of the movie is just the three characters. Three others were just day players. This is the scale of the movie we are talking about. (For reference, No Country For Old Men had 47 actors, a number Josh Brolin would continually reference during an acceptance speech when the film won best ensemble cast at the SAG Awards). So what is this film about exactly?
According to IMDB’s synopsis, director (and co-writer) Rob Connolly’s film is what happens “When two brothers are stranded by a brutal winter storm with an unpredictable father they barely know, the boys begin to suspect their supposed protector may be their biggest threat. ” What starts some innocent time spent with outdoorsman-type father, quickly breaks down, paralleling the downward spiral the befalls Elliot Baker, while his two sons try to make sense of it all.
Set in the backwoods during a particularly harsh winter, Caleb, the younger of the brothers – played brilliantly by the hyper-innocent Percy Hynes White – is more than eager to learn how to shoot his father’s rifle as well as how to hunt and fish. The older Bradley – Tom Holland aka the new Spiderman – understandably has his misgivings.
At first it may seem that Elliot simply doesn’t know how to be a father or understand his boys; it becomes clear that he is rather unhinged, having isolated himself from society for so long. For Bradley and Caleb it becomes a question of not when they will leave their cabin in the woods, but when.
The performances by Holland and Hynes White are masterful, with White’s Caleb showing great sincerity underneath his naivete. However, Joel Kinnaman – best known from his role on AMC’s The Killing – delivers a downright startling performance as the disturbed Elliot. Kinnaman is so minimal and so inward, yet invokes so much pain across his face. The majority of the film, he portrays very little emotion, yet when we do see Elliot go crazy, Kinnaman goes from 0-100 in a matter of seconds.
Shot in Ontario, this film also features a few Canadians amongst the cast. In addition to the aforementioned White, Twilight’s Rachelle Lefevre has a bit part as the boys mother, along with Rossif Sutherland as Luc, a French-Canadian hiker and the true unsung hero of the film.
What I particularly enjoyed about Edge of Winter was its lack of a human villain. While its true that Elliot’s transformation and downward descent into sublime madness may make him a threat, if not an enemy, to his sons, it is hard for me to think him as the “Bad guy” outright. Rather, for me, the worst offender in the story, the character who does the most damage is society, nature, circumstance. The setting in which they are, are the circumstances of why they are there, causes Elliot to act the way he does and his sons to react accordingly. That is what makes Edge of Winter a hauntingly beautiful film.