After an extensive run of the film festival gauntlet, Welcome to Leith is one of Netflix’s hidden gems. Directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, the documentary dives into the bizarre happenings of Leith, a rural North Dakota town with a population of 24. A new resident, Craig Cobb, moves in, but his intentions for the town are much darker than anyone could have anticipated. Cobb is a radical white supremacist and leader of a white nationalist group. With creative cinematography and a stellar soundtrack to match, the film tracks the chilling reality of Leith’s potential demise at the hands of Cobb’s ideologies.
Welcome to Leith opens with the climax of the film, throwing the viewer into the heat of the moment as the tension boils over in the town. Pitting Cobb and the town against each other from the very start, the sequence juxtaposes raw cell phone footage of the white supremacists with smooth POV shots throughout the town. This floating camerawork gives the effect that something (or better yet, someone) is lurking and is overlaid with audio of a frantic 911 call reporting Cobb’s threats. The plot is a classic case of starting with the effect rather than building into an issue with the causes, and for Welcome to Leith it works beautifully. With its captivating cinematography and compelling audio, the opening sequence hooks the audience right from the start as they crave the context of that cell phone footage and the resolve of the suspense created.
In revealing the context, the film takes an interesting approach to its pacing. While establishing the town and its longtime residents, the film cuts together several observational shots of daily life and interviews with its subjects. It then swiftly launches into how Cobb obtained property and where he fits into the white nationalism movement, throwing loads of information at the audience in a short sequence. The rapid pace itself replicates the haste of Cobb’s takeover in Leith. As his plot builds and the white supremacists threaten domination, the suspense continues until it climaxes with the scene that includes the original cell phone footage that opened the movie, this time in its full context. After this revelation, the film shifts into a much slower pace as Cobb is arrested and awaits trial. Again, the slow movement echoes the elongated process of the courts and the suspense lingering among the town as Cobb awaits trial. As the pace of the film reiterates the climate within Leith at the time, it again immerses the audience in the tension of the town.
As a real life thriller, the issues faced in Welcome to Leith are far too real if watched in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. While it is a tragedy that a movie like this can even exist because of the subject matter, the film does a very tasteful job of addressing all areas of the problem and both opinions in the matter. With the plot seeming like a fictional film, the audience cannot help but be shocked by the spectacle that has become the town of Leith. For documentary nerds and average moviegoers alike, Welcome to Leith is nothing short of captivating and is definitely worth the watch.