Wildling (2018)

DECEMBER 4, 2018


While people keep singing the praises of A24 and Neon, I'm gonna humbly request IFC Midnight get some more love for their steadily improving library of acquired indie/foreign gems. By partnering with Scream Factory, more eyeballs are getting on titles like A Dark Song and Autopsy of Jane Doe, and now we can add Wildling to that impressive (if still spotty - please steer clear of Desolation) roster. Like their earlier release The Cured, it's a dramatic and atmospheric (read: "slow" to those who demand a jump scare every three minutes to hold their attention) take on a classic movie monster, in this case the werewolf; checking the boxes that fans of such films expect while making sure the characters and story are always given priority.

And it hooks you in early, thanks to Brad Dourif in what seems like a rare good guy role. He is "Daddy" to a young girl who he seems determined to protect from "the wildlings" outside, telling her that she's the last child alive after they got all the others. During this opening montage sequence, it gradually becomes clear that he's trying to keep her in rather than them out - she is confined to a room with an electrified doorknob and isn't allowed to interact with anyone who happens to visit him, and when he starts giving her a mysterious drug any reasonably astute horror fan can probably figure out SHE's a wildling and he's trying to prevent her from turning into one.

This scenario might have been a perfectly good movie on its own, focused only on this man and the girl he sees as a daughter but also a monster, but after an incident I won't spoil she is taken in by the town's sheriff (Liv Tyler) and given the chance to live a normal life: she goes to school, makes a few friends, even learns about internet porn courtesy of Tyler's brother, who is at least twenty years younger i.e. closer to her age/a potential love interest. At first he's dismissive of her, but as they grow closer she also starts finding it harder to subdue her monstrous side - will she end up killing these folks? Will she be hunted down by the same folks who killed the rest of her kind?

I'm not here to answer those questions, but I can tell you that the film does a good job of balancing its sad nature with some violence, including a gnarly throat rip. Again, like The Cured (which kept coming to mind because, like it, Wildling is a movie that's just been sitting there on my floor hoping to get noticed for who knows how long) this isn't a movie that will satisfy those looking for the popcorn thrills generally promised by their sub-genre, but knowing that going in I was kind of surprised at the carnage it offered. A pair of clear villains are established, and you're expecting them to go out spectacularly, but a third act plot point introduces some random hunters that allows for bonus bloodshed, sort of like a reward for being patient with the slower-paced first hour.

That said, ironically the movie kind of races through one of the dramatic plot points, making me wish that earlier part had been stretched out some. As I mentioned, when Anna is first brought to Tyler's house her brother is kind of antagonistic toward her and sees her as a weirdo (for good reason), but they become quite close over what seems like an afternoon. I wouldn't have minded seeing their bond strengthen more organically, as opposed to a "Well you know they have to get past their opposition eventually so why not get on with it?" kind of approach. It's not a crippling flaw or anything, but it was a bit distracting, as if the editor chopped out a chunk somewhere to move things along. The disc has a few deleted scenes, but it's mostly more with the younger version of Anna and also when older Anna and Ray had already bonded.

Speaking of young Anna, they did a phenomenal job casting younger versions that actually look like they might grow into the lead actress, particularly the middle one. It's the holiday season, and thus naturally Silent Night Deadly Night is on my mind, which has what may be the least likely progression of actors showing the same character across three periods, so perhaps it's just making this one look all that much better? But seriously: it's one of the best matches I've seen - I figured they were actually sisters until the IMDb told me otherwise. Casting just did a fantastic job across the board, really - we're even treated to James Le Gros as a mountain man who aids Anna from time to time. Haven't seen him in a genre movie since Bitter Feast, always good to see that guy pop up (no Phantasm jokes! He was fine and it wasn't his fault!).

Ultimately what works best about the movie is kind of a spoiler, but I'll try to be vague and say that Anna isn't treated as the villain, or even a doomed hero - there's an optimistic slant to her predicament. Most movies of this type end in one of two ways, but this one opts for a third version I can't say I've seen too often. There are sad moments in the movie, for sure, but overall it's kind of an uplifting entry in the sub-genre, one that didn't bum me out as so many indie horror films tend to. So it's a good-natured movie where someone gets impaled! Definitely worth looking for, and I look forward to what writer/director Fritz Böhm does next - he has an extensive VFX background (which he puts to good use here, but thankfully for things like backgrounds, not just the creature stuff) and such folks don't have the best track record, but he clearly has more on his mind than, say, the Strause Brothers. Here's hoping he continues that approach for his future endeavors.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. While I was a bit confused by the review, I think the trailer is very intriguing. I get the impression that it is the kind of film you find creepy but cannot stop watching till the end.


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