Writer-director Scooter Corkle's feature debut "Hollow in the Land" is an earthy Canadian small-town thriller that recalls Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone" — a movie more filmmakers should emulate. Corkle's film isn't as assured, but it's a well-told story, with a strong sense of place.
"Glee" favorite Dianna Agron stars as Alison Miller, a factory worker and stubborn iconoclast, who shrugs off her neighbors' disdain for her homosexuality, her imprisoned father and her wayward teen brother Brandon (played by Jared Abrahamson). When an old Miller family nemesis turns up dead, Alison launches her own investigation into what happened, pitting her against the powerful elites and skittish ordinary citizens in her blue-collar Canadian community.
The mystery plot in "Hollow in the Land" isn't that well-drawn, mainly because Corkle falls into the common indie trap of fleshing out the back story at the expense of the plot. But Agron's experience and charisma bring warmth to a steely character; and she's well-supported by Shawn Ashmore as a sympathetic sheriff.
Plus, as someone who spent a decade working in crews of over two dozen low-budget productions, Corkle has a rare command of craft. His narrative is slim, but it's delivered unpretentiously, with an understanding that a good cast and a vivid locale preclude any need to get flashy.
Like "Winter's Bone," the film is at its best when it follows its heroine closely, letting the audience understand more about her life with each step closer to danger.
'Hollow in the Land'
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Playing: AMC CityWalk, Universal City