‘Little Woods’ tells the story of two estranged sisters living in a destitute North Dakota oil boomtown who resort to unlawful and desperate measures to survive when they are left with only one week to pay the mortgage on their deceased mother’s home before it becomes foreclosed on.
Ollie (Tessa Thompson) has been on probation for a past drug offense since getting caught transporting prescription drugs across the Canadian border. At the time, Ollie was smuggling prescription medication out of Canada into the U.S. for her dying mother as well as for other sick and work-injured residents in her North Dakota oil boomtown. Now on probation, Ollie has cleaned herself up by making a licit living doing laundry and selling coffee and breakfast sandwiches out of her truck to oil field workers. With 8 days left of her probation, Ollie gets an amazing job opportunity in another town with the chance to start a new life. Ollie is also currently in possession of her deceased mother’s house but with the house being foreclosed on and a new job opportunity on the horizon, Ollie prepares to let of go of the house so she can get a fresh start.
That same week Ollie’s estranged sister, Deb (Lily James) finds out that she is pregnant. Already a single mom to a young son with no support from her child’s father and living in a trailer park barely making ends meet, Deb is torn on whether or not she should keep the baby. Ollie doesn’t want to leave her sister during this trying time and decides to help Deb by giving her their mother’s house. But given only a week to pay the mortgage before the house is taken away, Ollie makes the decision to sell drugs again in order to come up with the money. Even though she was caught last time, Ollie also decides to risk making a trip across the border again to transport prescription drugs. Meanwhile, Deb finally chooses to get an abortion but it cost too much money in the states. So, she decides to take the trip with Ollie up to Canada to get an abortion using a fraudulent Canadian healthcare card. In only a week, Ollie and Deb find themselves on a treacherous journey to the border, risking everything just to survive.
Little Woods veraciously captures the struggle of working-class people living in a system that makes it almost impossible to exist without resorting to unlawful means just to get by. The film makes a statement that unlawful actions are not necessarily immoral actions, especially when unlawful actions are done out of survival. In doing so, the film humanizes Ollie and Deb and instead of judging them you end up judging this country instead. In one scene, Deb finds out that it cost $8,000 dollars just to have a baby without health insurance and hundreds of dollars for an abortion. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Deb has to travel all the way to Canada just to have access to an abortion. However, it was America’s unjust healthcare system that ultimately backed Deb into this corner and forced her to commit fraud.
But this film is not just about surviving in an impossible system—the film is also about sisterhood. Set in the backdrop of the rugged and wooded midwestern outdoors that portrays the terrain as both equally beautiful and difficult to navigate—the scenery perfectly reflects the arduous journey the two sisters made from becoming estranged to developing an armored bond. The film also speaks to the strength of womanhood as these two sisters only have each other to depend as the men in this story are either unreliable or exploitative.
Little Woods is an outstanding directorial debut from Nia DaCosta, who has also been tapped by Joran Peele to direct the 1992 Candyman reboot. Starring Tessa Thompson, Lily James, James Badge Dale, Lance Reddick, and Luke Kirby, Little Woods premieres in theaters April 19.