Atmosphere is everything in this film version of Daniel Woodrell's novel, set in a poor rural area of the Ozark mountains, where life seems to have changed little in the last 50 years. When the film begins, 17-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is already under immense pressure, caring for two younger siblings and a mentally deteriorating mother after her dad — who was never much help to begin with — has gone AWOL, maybe for good. When she's given less than a week to save her family's home — the only thing standing between them and the hard lives of woodland creatures — the strain becomes nearly unbearable.
The scene we've highlighted here occurs about two-thirds of the way through the story. It's the most surprising scene in the film, not because it gives anything away — it's a dream sequence, with oblique imagery that invokes earlier events and foreshadows future ones — but because it's stylistically different from the rest of "Winter's Bone." It's almost a little abstract short film stuck in the middle of a visually conservative, Deep South spin on hard-boiled detective fiction. But it only feels random the first time you see it; by the time the final credits roll, every part of it — from the close-ups of panicked woodland creatures to the roar of chainsaws — makes perfect, beautiful sense.