This won't be to everyone's taste. Slow burning and bleak but if you're willing to submit to it, very absorbing with a subtle power all of it's own.
No revenge type plot common to many westerns, this is a window on a moment in history and the people therein. The premise is simple enough ; a small wagon trail lost on the barren plains in an increasingly desperate search to find water.
Natural and realistic in it's tone, more like a social drama with a refreshing but substantial emphasis on the female point of view. There is also a delicate, almost eerie edge that builds gradually, spell-like, throughout the film. Ultra authentic with great attention to the details of wagon life. The actors were even forbidden from washing their clothes.
The direction is handled with great precision, but not obviously so. We are teased at times, eavesdropping on mumbled conversations during times of panic. We are made to feel helpless as their helplessness becomes apparent. Plenty of time and space are given for the characters and for the situation to develop. There is evidently a great respect for the subject.
Despite being set on the vast plains, there is a real sense of claustrophobia which creates emphasis on the characters and their predicament. The film therein resembles great intense single situation movies, such as Sidney Lumet's 'Twelve Angry Men', Polanski's 'Knife in the water' and certainly 'The Blair Witch Project'. At times it does feel more like a subtle, psychological horror film than a western, though the menace is entirely unseen. Unlike most westerns, it is shot in tv style 4:3 ratio as opposed to panoramic widescreen, thus emphasising characters and emotion with little relief from scenic splendour.
Overall it is a small, brave and highly effective film, superbly handled with a atmosphere that lingers long in the mind. It has a unique and welcome place in the history of the western. Just make sure you have a bottle of water handy when you watch it.