Did anyone have as much going on in 2018 as Tessa Thompson? (Nicole Kidman aside, of course.) She started off with Sorry to Bother You, the Boots Riley–directed, Lakeith Stanfield–starring satire; she followed that up with Annihilation, Alex Garland’s ambitious reimagining of the Jeff Vandermeer novel of the same name; she did the Creed sequel and Dear White People; and she managed to fit in time to slip through Janelle Monáe’s vulva pants in the music video for “Pynk.”
Somewhere in between all those projects, she made Little Woods, a gritty indie by the first-time director Nia DaCosta that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last April. (Thompson and DaCosta first met at the Sundance Directors’ Lab.) There, it was nominated for best narrative feature and was shortly picked up by Neon, the distributor that put out I, Tonya and Vox Lux; it also brought DaCosta to the attention of one Jordan Peele, who selected her to direct his upcoming Candyman reboot. “CANDYMAN was a seminal film for me and that I get to be a part of its legacy is pretty unbelievable,” she wrote on Twitter shortly after the announcement.
Now, nearly a year later, Little Woods finally has its first trailer and a release date: April 19. In the film, Thompson plays Ollie, a lifelong resident of the titular mining town in North Dakota, near the border with Canada. Ollie is nearing the end of her parole for a drug-trafficking conviction, having been caught smuggling prescription pills across the border and selling them to the town’s struggling residents. With the support of a parole officer, played by a stoic Lance Reddick, it looks like she’s soon going to be free.
That is, until the death of her mother, which leaves Ollie and her sister Deb with just a week to pay off the mortgage on her home, or face foreclosure. (“Trust me, if you saw the house, you’d pay us to keep it,” Ollie tells an unsympathetic loan officer.) And until Deb’s unexpected pregnancy—one that, without health insurance, she can’t afford any more than she can afford an abortion. So Ollie finds herself thrust back into a business that she thought she’d left behind, in order to help her family—though, as she admits in the trailer, it’s not as though there wasn’t a certain appeal to running drugs. “What went wrong last time, when you got caught?” Deb asks. “I forgot to be scared,” Ollie tells her, sitting on the floor of their kitchen. “I liked it too much.”
The trailer, like the film, starts off understated and rhythmic and is quickly brought to a boil. (It’s also an unexpected commentary on Canada’s socialized health care and the specific ways lack of access to medical care affects women.) This year, once again, might be the year of Tessa Thompson.