Eleven-year-old Atticus (Silas Yelich) knows everything a boy his age should: Jobs suck, zombie-massacring video games are cool, and he’s way too old to let his mom check him for ticks.
Still, he adores her: Nicole (Lili Taylor) may or may not be a survivalist, but she’s so full of grit, resolve, and self-reliance that Boy and Girl Scouts should pray to her in their time of need. But Nicole’s independent spirit might not be the best legacy to leave her son.
In the thoughtful and touching coming-of-age tale The Cold Lands, writer-director Tom Gilroy examines self-reliance as a philosophy and way of life. When his single mother suddenly dies, Atticus decides to subsist in the vast woods behind their house rather than leave his fate to the grown-ups his mother so distrusted.
This pushes him into a makeshift existence dependent on petty theft and vulnerable to incoherent meth cooks. At night, his mom seems to give him advice from beyond the grave, but he knows better than to believe her now. After a few days on his own, Atticus finds and attaches himself to handsome drifter Carter (Peter Scanavino).
Carter’s the kind of guy who sells handmade jewelry at music festivals to make money and lives out of his car, so the tension regarding whether he’ll take Atticus under his wing or hand him over to the cops for the reward money proves extremely affecting.
One thing’s for sure: Jack Kerouac lied about the beauty of the road.