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The World to Come

By Alan Ng | February 4, 2021

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! As a critic, I see a lot of movies every year. I rarely like to pull the “I’ve seen this before” card, but when the same story is told for the third time in a single year… well, here we go. I’m referring to Mona Fastvold’s The World To Come starring Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbott, and Casey Affleck.

I’ll go into the story and note the moment you say to yourself, “Stop! I’ve heard this before.” Abigail (Katherine Waterston) is the wife of a farmer in mid-19th century America. After her daughter’s death, she finds herself in a loveless marriage with Dyer (Casey Affleck). One day, Abigail catches the eye of her new neighbor, Tallie (Vanessa Kirby). Tallie is also in a loveless (and abusive) marriage with Finney (Christopher Abbott). An instant connection is formed as the two are transfixed with one another.

One day, Abigail visits Tallie, and the two hit it off as friends, so much so that Abigail comes to life and desires nothing more than to see her every day, and the feeling is mutual. After a particularly harsh winter, Abigail and Tallie begin to explore a much deeper and physical relationship with one another. Before you know it, the two have to hide their newfound love, but secrets can never be hidden.

I should add a few other facts. Abigail and Tallie are treated as property by their husbands. They’re both are also treated as slave labor and chastised for not completing their work for the day. Both women are highly intelligent and very much in tune with their thoughts and feelings. Abigail asks Dyer to buy her an atlas so that she can dream of a bigger world. Dyer wishes she would spend her money on a gift for him.

“…begin to explore a much deeper and physical relationship with one another.”

I don’t want to come across as uncaring or minimizing women’s abuse or marginalization over the centuries. But, I’ve seen this before. Two other times this year, in fact. I’ll direct you immediately to Summerland and Ammonite. I thought Summerland was terrific, and I would recommend it to anyone. I thought Ammonite was bland, and The World to Come doesn’t fare much better. The worse thing you can do for your cause is making a mediocre movie about it.

The reality is there’s no new story under the sun. Everything we watch is a retelling of something. The trick is to make the story your own and find ways of freshening it up. Let me get into the second most damning criticism. The dialogue is insufferable. Did everyone in mid-19th century America speak in theatrical prose? I’ll admit my frustration with the story may cloud my judgment, but it was so draining.

One positive is the score by Daniel Blumberg. It honestly kept me somewhat engaged. It’s not the typical sweeping orchestra, but what sounded like a fiddle and cello, along with a unique use of percussion. The score somehow made the dialogue palatable to the end.

It’s here I would normally talk about the acting. Yes, the entire cast is excellent, as they are all seasoned actors. Kirby and Waterston make lemonade from the lemons in the dialogue.

I’m being harsh on The World to Come. There’s nothing new and nothing we haven’t seen, which means every single moment and plot twist is familiar and predictable. I was sitting waiting for the first kiss, the excuses to cover-up their affair, the moment they get caught, and the tragic end (if there is one. I’m not saying there is one. I don’t know, maybe?).

The World to Come screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

The World to Come (2021)

Directed: Mona Fastvold

Written: Ron Hansen, Jim Shepard

Starring: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbott, Casey Affleck, etc.

Movie score: 5/10

The World to Come Image

"…there's nothing new and nothing we haven't seen..."

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