Sweetland: Haunted by the Homeland

The past is far more haunting than any apparition.

Directed by Christian Sparkes, Sweetland tells the story of Moses (Mark Lewis Jones), a man who has lived in Newfoundland his entire life. He lives a simple life in his beloved community, caring for his grandson and celebrating the natural beauty of his homeland. These are not people of wealth, but they are people who are proud of the lives they’ve built. Even so, when the other residents, including his daughter Clara (Sara Canning), begin accepting financial deals for their land, Moses is shaken. Suddenly, his world is beginning to fade away and he remains determined to kick against the extinction of his world.

Visually stunning and fueled by compelling performances, Sweetland is a beautiful, cinematic experience. Sparkes has such an innate knowledge of the maritime culture that he knows how to bring out the mystique and tragedy of the area. In this spring’s The King Tide, he used that mystique to create a sense of whimsy that exposes the darkest parts of the soul. However, in Sweetland, he creates a very different aesthetic. Here, Sparkes taps into a culture that is quickly dying in front of the viewer. As each resident accepts the financial deal to move on in the mainland, the dominoes begin to fall increasingly quickly. All of a sudden, the land immersed in innocence and stunning beauty feels as though it’s being lost to progress. 

This forced reality, of course, has a ripple effect amongst the townspeople, especially Moses who clings to his simple life with an intense grip. In the role of Moses, Jones is utterly remarkable. There is a focus in his performance that is both enchanting and furious. He is a man of principle but he also loves his family deeply and, arguably, his way of life even more. The threat of losing what he knows is a terrifying prospect, even if he views it as a necessity. To Moses, the future is unimaginable anywhere else and his mind begins to blend reality.

You see, ultimately, Sweetland is a ghost story.

But this term is not meant to be used in the traditional sense. Although Sparkes immerses the screen with haunting mist and shadows that slowly swallow his characters whole, the ghosts are not horrifying. Instead, these moments speak to the power of having to let go of the ways we’ve always known and whether or not we can lean into uncertainty. Moses firmly believes that life ‘can’t get better than this’, even if he’s being told that the urban world offers new opportunities.

In this way, it’s interesting that the mainland isn’t viewed as evil. Although Moses feels betrayed by those who take the deal, we understand that they’re doing so as a matter for survival. (This is particularly true for Clara who recognizes that the mainland provides better opportunities for herself and her son.) As such, 

As a result, Sweetland never demonizes the modern world. Instead, it is terrifying. Moses journey to hold on to his own sweet land is met with affection and reverence. But we know that the journey can only take him so far.

Sweetland is available in theatres on Friday, May 17th, 2024 

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