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Directed by Fritz Böhm
Written by Fritz Böhm, Florian Eder
Starring Bel Powley, Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, Collin Kelly-Sordelet, James Le Gros, Mike Faist, Troy Ruptash, Frank Deal, Charlotte Ubben, Keenan Jolliff
While filled with all kinds of leaps in logic and fairy tale time jumps, WILDLING is somewhat of an odd, but likable little mix of fantasy and horror.
Anna (Bel Powley) is a young girl sheltered by a misguided man known only as Daddy (Brad Dourif). She is locked in a single room and forbidden to leaving the house, located in the middle of the woods. On her sixteenth birthday, Anna witnesses an accident which allows her to be free of Daddy’s watch. Waking up in a hospital, Anna is about to be shuffled into the social services system, but Sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler) will have none of that. Instead, she allows Anna to stay with her, but soon Ellen realizes that she is taking in something she is not prepared for as Anna experiences urges to roam free and is still recovering from the abuse her father has inflicted upon her, which includes a cautionary fairy tale about the Wildling that roams the woods and eats children just like Anna.
I don’t want to spoil too much to this tale, but there is something fantastical going on here. I’m all for the mix of fantasy and horror, and Fritz Böhm is a talented enough filmmaker to blend the fantasy with reality rather well in some points in this film. There are beautiful sequences such as when Anna is running free in the forest and some of the wide spanning shots of Anna silhouetted in the woods. There are also some rather decent acting turns here with Brad Dourif getting to stretch his crazy wings a bit as the delusional father and newcomer Bel Powley steals the show as Anna, be she attacking someone in the dark or looking wide-eyed at the world she was neglected to experience. Powley offers up a memorable and star-making act here and her performance is probably the reason I like the film as much as I do. James Legros also offers up a fun turn as a wolf skin wearing hobo who lives in the woods and provides a necessary info drop in the third act.
These beautiful shots and wonderful acting turns almost makes me forget the huge blunders this film makes almost at every turn. First and foremost, there is no way in hell a police officer would be able to take in a naïve orphan simply because the orphan wants that to be so. It seems writer/director Böhm and his co-writer Florian Eder know absolutely nothing about how the foster care system works. It is quite obvious that the young girl has received abuse, neglect, and untold horrors in her seclusion, but there is nary a mention of a psychologist or counselor or legal guardian assigned to Anna to give her a mental evaluation and begin to deal with all of that trauma. That’s shuffled aside quickly so that we can get Anna out of the hospital and into Ellen’s home. Even then, there is no mention of psychological follow-up visits to the home or Ellen even taking some kind of steps to treat this obviously fucked up kid. Nope. Nothing. She just starts going to school with Ellen’s flop-haired brother and even attends a party unchaperoned proving that Ellen is utterly unfit to take care of a gold fish, let alone an abused girl.
But that’s just the tip of the ice berg in terms of the logic taken out back and shot in order for key scenes to occur in this film. Time is a construct that is more and more ignored as this fairy tale goes on. While it seems like only days that Anna has been in Ellen’s home, huge leaps in time are needed in order for Anna to have acclimated to her new environment. There is a pregnancy that comes to term seemingly the next day. And Brad Dourif’s Daddy character recovers from a near fatal wound in seemingly weeks with only a slight scar to show for it. I was waiting for these time jumps to be explained away somehow. I would have even swallowed an “it was all a dream” scenario. But none of that occurs. The film simply flies off course into a world where time, space, and common sense simply doesn’t occur.
WILDLING is going to leave more concrete thinkers with fits of rage, I fear. I’m willing to bend quite a bit with films in terms of them going off the deep end, but these leaps were even more overpowering than I could stand. Böhm has a talented eye, but it seems this director might have needed someone there to tether him down in terms of continuity and sheer logic. With some fantastic performances and some amazing effects, WILDLING is not unwatchable. Somewhere in this film is a pretty amazing little film that has shades of both ROOM and GINGER SNAPS. There’s actually a lot to like and I know this one will be sticking with me for a while. Just don’t scratch a hole in your scalp trying to make sense of the timeline this film follows—or fails to follow, more accurately.