Despite having doubts, Natalie goes ahead with her wedding to Bakkies. But after an unexpected violent incident, Natalie seeks refuge with her beloved horse only to end up accidently shooting someone. Panicked, she seeks help from her best friend Poppie, now heavily pregnant and also eager to escape their small town. Meanwhile, police officer Captain Beauty Cuba awaits the arrival of her fiancé who is being released from prison after 15 years, only to find out he’s been accused of murder again. Beauty soon pieces together what has happened and is hot on the girls’ heals as they ride for Johannesburg and freedom.
There are moments in Flatland where it could be seen as a thinly veiled version of Thelma and Louise, except Natalie and Poppie run away on a horse rather than in a car. These are two girls who want to escape; Natalie because of her crime and the unwanted marriage she fled from, Poppie because she wants to escape the small-town life. It’s as if the two of them were waiting for an excuse to run away before. They felt that they couldn’t until now when it’s become absolutely imperative that they leave this life behind. Beauty on the other hand has been waiting for Billy, her fiancé, to be freed. Being with him would mean freedom from her lonely life and they could finally be together.
As an alternative Western that focuses on three women while exploring topics that never really leave a discussion panel, Flatland is a satisfyingly genre twisted story that we don’t get to see too often. As Westerns are predominately male dominated, it is refreshing to see the roles of the law, the criminal and the accomplice given an edge. But despite this great set up, the story does falter when a rivalry between the friends who grew up as sisters flares up because of a man. This might be a typical plot device to include in any other Western genre film but it really isn’t needed here. This rather dilutes the strength that Natalie and Poppie had built up over the film and their lives growing up together.
The bleak and beautiful nature of Flatland is perfectly located against the scenery of South Africa. It provides the atmosphere that this is a harsh and difficult place to live in but there are still aspects of beauty, such as Natalie and Poppie’s close bond and Beauty and Billy’s long lasting love. Flatland wants us to hold on to hope for these characters and that they are able to be free and one day, maybe, be happy. Whether it is together or apart.
Flatland is released on 23 August.