Modern creature features haven’t exactly been known to attract mainstream talent or audiences. All too often relegated to SyFy original movies or The Asylum, they just aren’t as popular as they once were in the ’80s (or even the ’90s). Enter Wildling, director Fritz Böhm‘s latest addition to the sub-genre. The film is something of a unique beast, mixing several different genres and attracting the likes of top-notch actors like Brad Dourif and Liv Tyler. It is also a remarkably accomplished film for the Böhm in what is his first, but hopefully not last, feature film.
Since she was born, Anna (Bel Powley) has been raised by a man (Brad Dourif) she knows only as Daddy. Throughout her childhood, Daddy has kept her locked in the attic and warns her of the Wildling, a beast that ate all of the other children in the world. Thinking Daddy is protecting her, Anna never once questions his motives. When Anna is 16 she is freed by local sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler), who takes her in to live with her and her younger brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet). As Anna begins to acclimate to her new life, the memory of the Wildling comes back to haunt her, leading to chaos within her new family.
You don’t really need to know anything else about the plot of Wildling (and you’re better off ignoring the trailer embedded below) because this is the type of film that will play a lot better going in blind.
Wildling is essentially a modern-day fairy tale, and thanks to Böhm’s camerawork and cinematographer Toby Oliver’s (the director of photography for last year’s Get Out and Happy Death Day) blue and grey color palettes, it really does look like a live-action fairy tale, albeit a significantly bloody one. The film follows some familiar beats of coming-of-age films, but it’s so delightfully weird that you almost don’t care. Almost. There are two possible directions for Wildling‘s narrative to go and the direction it chooses may make or break the film for some viewers, but considering I write for a horror site and live for things like this I was in it from the get-go. Lest you think that Wildling is without surprises, rest assured that Böhm’s screenplay, which he co-wrote with first-time screenwriter Florian Eder, has a quite a few tricks up its metaphorical sleeve.
Unfortunately, as Wildling careens towards its climax, it threatens to run of the rails. It never fully derails so as to ruin the experience, but a few occurrences will require significant suspension of disbelief that the film doesn’t entirely earn. This mostly has to do with the relationship between Ray and Anna, despite both actors turning in wonderful performances and displaying a palpable chemistry. You just never fully buy their relationship as it turns from a platonic friendship and into one of a more sexual nature (The Shape of Water, this ain’t). It is an odd feeling to want a movie to be longer, but Wildling could have benefited from devoting more time to its central pair of lovebirds. Editors Matthew Rundell and Robb Sullivan’s restrained editing also grows more erratic as the film enters the third act, making it difficult to tell what is going on in some of the action sequences. This could be an attempt to mask poor effects due to the film’s low budget, but it is a glaring flaw in an otherwise solid film.
Böhm has assembled a strong group of actors for Wildling. Horror fans will come for Dourif, who gives an over-the-top but captivating performance as the mysterious Daddy, but it is Powley who anchors the film. She turns in a nuanced and animalistic performance as she morphs from a young girl afraid of the world around her into a woman afraid of her own body. It’s nice to see Tyler return to the horror genre (it’s her first genre film since The Strangers was released 10 years ago). She gives Ellen a sweetly maternal quality and is heartwarming to watch in her scenes with Powley. James Le Gros also pops up in a brief cameo as a forest hermit with some ties to Anna’s past.
Wildling is a solid debut feature for Böhm and features a magnetic performance from Bel Powley as well as some excellent creature and gore effects. The film loses its way a bit towards the end, but its heart is in the right place, making for a rather endearing viewing experience. If anything, the film leave you with a strong desire to see Böhm’s next film, whatever that may be.
IFC Midnight will release Wildling on VOD on April 13, 2018.