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A single Cree mother named Rochelle (newcomer Charity Bradford) from rural Saskatchewan finds herself amid a major crisis at the start of Daniel Redenbach and Janine Windolph’s subtly suspenseful character drama The Land of Rock and Gold. Her boyfriend (Barrett Thompson) has gone missing without a trace after setting out on a hunting trip. After a few days of her boyfriend not showing up for work at the local mine, Rochelle starts panicking when child protective services come by and threaten to take her son (Dimitri McLeod) away thanks to her current state of unemployment. Rochelle sets out one day into the woods to get some answers, but what she discovers only raises more questions and leaves her feeling even more helpless.

Gorgeously photographed and deftly balancing sadness and suspense, Redenbach and Windolph have created a multilayered look at how desperation can arise from a crisis while pointedly starting a discussion about how hard it is to be a single First Nations mother. Their depiction of Rochelle combined with Bradford’s bracing performance is one of a woman who is sometimes hard to like or sympathize with. She makes poor decisions and acts out of anger often, but when one steps back from the situation, it’s sadly easy to realize that she’s trying to stave off any further tragedy in her life.

The Land of Rock and Gold switches gears a bit around the halfway mark once Rochelle takes an under the table gig as a housecleaner for a woman that might be connected to her boyfriend’s disappearance, but even though things look like they’re ramping up to a conclusion, it’s worth sticking with the film to find out where it goes. It’s a strong first feature for the directorial duo.