The World to Come, directed by Mona Fastvold, paints a pretty yet painful picture of life in upstate New York in the year 1856. It’s a long and brutal winter, tough to find much joy or solace in the world when your only point of living is making sure you survive day-to-day (gee, does that sound familiar?).

This is infinitely tougher for Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck) who lost their young daughter due to tragic illness at a young age. Abigail has understandably become withdrawn which has put a strain on their marriage. Abigail is seemingly living the same day over and over again without much hope, while Dyer tries to keep their farm afloat despite the harshness of winter.

Abigail’s life changes upon the arrival of a new neighbor named Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), and her husband, Finney (Christopher Abbott). Abigail instantly lights up anytime Tallie’s name is uttered, let alone appears in a room. They start spending more and more time together to the point where both husbands notice and become curious about how much time their wives are spending with one another. Dyer even apologizes to his wife upon his entry into a room as her smile vanishes, disappointed it isn’t Tallie.

Its unfortunate timing that the film arrives so recently since the release of the similarly themed Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Ammonite, two films which The World to Come will unfortunately be compared to – with one far superior and one less so.

Fastvold’s direction and the writing from Jim Shepard and Ron Hansen is equally understated and passionate with an artful touch that doesn’t rely on big dramatic tension or dialogue but rather a slow-burning approach that allows the audience to smartly connect the dots. The approach is a mixed bag that is held together by the glue that is its very strong cast. Waterston and Kirby are rock solid together, commanding the screen every chance they get. While Affleck and Abbott get less to do, the two make the most of their given screentime. The secret MVP is composer Andre Chemetoff, whose score has a lasting impact, especially the impressive score that accompanies a thunderous snowstorm that is menacing and heightened thanks to his work.

This is a technically sound picture that has some great ingredients and the sort of cast that you should take note of. All of it is right there but The World to Come may be a bit too understated and familiar for its own good. I didn’t get as sucked into its world as I thought I would, finding myself admiring it more than absorbing it.

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