SXSW Film Review – Wildling
“Do you want to hear a story?” That is how Wildling opens, with Daddy (Brad Dourif) speaking both to the small child, Anna, and the audience. Anna is laying in a small bed in an attic, and she is told of these harmful creatures named Wildlings who eat children. She is protected by Daddy, locked in this attic with only one window to look out to the forest. She is told of Wildlings many times, and that she is kept in this room by Daddy to protect her. The little Anna is curious of the outside world and attempts to open the door to leave this room, only to be electrocuted by the doorknob. Daddy tells her that the tactic is not to keep her in but to keep the Wildlings out.
The true intent of Daddy is revealed slowly as Anna grows older (now portrayed by Bel Powley) and she starts to become a woman. As her period starts, she receives injections from Daddy to stunt her growth and prevent maturity. Desperate to save her, yet killing her at the same time, Daddy attempts to kill himself. The gunshot that rings out in the wild attracts the attention of the neighbors and the police find Anna and a still alive Daddy.
It is now that Anna is introduced to the complex world she never experienced. Abused and starved, Anna must come to terms with becoming a “normal” teenager as well as what her Daddy did to her. Abandoned without a teacher, Sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler) steps into this role, determined to see Anna well. She takes her into her home and introduces her to her brother, Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet).
Wildling plays like a modern fairy tale, as it seems Anna is special in some way. Bel Powley plays the wide-eyed Anna well. Powley conveys a scared teenager with a hidden secret, while she is voracious for knowledge and naïve of the ways of the world. She eats meat for the first time; something Daddy never let her do. She also interacts with her peers, which comes with some teenage boy adoration along with some bullying. It turns out Anna is good at defending herself and Ray. Throughout it all, Anna does not necessarily know she is different, but the signs start to emerge.
Certain members of the town are suspicious of this new girl, and Anna knows they are looking at her. One member, in particular, is an outsider himself, The Wolf Man (James Le Gros), and seems to know what exactly Anna is. His adornments of a wolf pelt and other animal parts lend to the notion that he may not be all there in the head but has a second sense about Anna’s true self.
No one should be spoiled about Anna’s true self until they see the film. The better half of Wildling is the journey of discovery of Anna. Unfortunately, once it all starts to be revealed, the film loses believability and takes the journey of Anna a bit too far. Believability with a film like this may be a stretch, but the actors and the setting make it for one of the better first-halves of any film in this genre. The genre for Wildling is drama, science fiction, and fantasy all rolled into one. There are trailers for Wilding on YouTube labeled as a horror, and while a few scenes may fall into that category, calling it horror will do the audience attracted by that word a disservice.
It is as Anna’s true self is revealed that we learn who Daddy truly is and that Ray is really only there as a plot device. By the time Anna is completely who she is really, there were already a couple of eye rolls from myself and an eagerness for the film to quickly end.
Wildling had amazing potential, as the first half of the film is mesmerizing with the possibilities running through your head of the true nature of Anna. It went too far and lost me as Anna starts to become who she really is and what happens between her and Ray. Bel Powley should be applauded for her care in portraying Anna and being willing to take it where director and writer Fritz Böhm (along with co-writer Florian Eder) wanted to conclude the story. Brad Dourif’s continued gifts as a thespian make the film’s opening quite engrossing. Dourif and Powley are the saving graces of Wildling. There are great make-up effects along with using minimal CGI, making it one of the few that can carry along a fantastical story without an over-reliance on CGI. There will be an audience for Wildling who will revel in the audaciousness of the ending, bordering on kitschy.