The wages of sin are forever up in the old North Carolina hills, especially when they concern clans carrying on a blood feud. That’s the backdrop for Winter People, a grimly unappetizing melodrama that forwards themes and concerns as remote as its time and place.
Adaptation of John Ehle’s novel is set in 1934. Widower Kurt Russell decamps from his native town with little daughter in tow and alights at the remote cabin of Kelly McGillis, who has an illegitimate baby son.
An old-fashioned, unassertive type, Russell has to prove himself to McGillis’ three brothers by joining them on a bear hunt, and wins the approval of her pa (Lloyd Bridges) by designing and building a clock tower for the little community.
But the demented Campbell clan lives across the river, and McGillis’ dark secret is then revealed.
Continual histrionic demands are placed upon McGillis, who is not necessarily always up to them, and Russell is stuck with the Richard Barthlemess role of the earnest do-gooder forced to lower himself to the occasion of taking on brutal thugs.