Genre : Fantasy–Horror
Country : United States
Director: Fritz Böhm
One of my favorite things about horror movies is the chance to see major stars appear in a scary movie before their big break. Who would have thought that Jennifer Aniston would be one of the highest paid actresses on television after Leprechaun? Or that the third sequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre would feature not just one but two Academy Award winners in Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey? Far less common is when a major star to become more known for their work in horror as they get older. It just doesn’t seem to happen. And while actors like Ben Kingsley and Jeremy Irons have dabbled in genre film few have embraced it like Brad Dourif.
After an extensive career on the stage Dourif gained notoriety in his very first film as Billy Bibbit in cinematic classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nominated for an Academy Award and winning a Golden Globe he would have roles in cult classics like Dune and Blue Velvet. While he would become known as a supporting player and a respected character actors his life would change when he was cast as Chucky in Child’s Play. Since then he has become an icon of horror with memorable performances in Body Parts, The Exorcist III and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Still going strong with Cult of Chucky and Ready Player One his latest role is in the dark fairy tale, Wildling.
Raised in isolation, teenager Anna has only known “Daddy” her entire life. A man who has done everything he could to keep her from the outside world. When she is suddenly thrust into the rest of the world she comes to live with the woman who found her, Sheriff Ellen Cooper. Struggling with her place in the world, Ana soon learns that the truth behind the stories Daddy would tell her.
For an independent production, Wildling has quite the impressive cast. A horror veteran Brad Dourif is perfectly cast as Daddy. Despite a lack of screen time he makes the most of it telling a young Anna about the Wildlings, creatures with razor sharp teeth and claws that are searching for her. Part cryptkeeper and part loving father his simple yet creepy storytelling goes a long way in setting the tone for this fantasy-horror film. But as good as he and c0-star Liv Tyler are in their roles this movie truly belongs to Bel Powley.
Bel Powley is put in a tough spot as Anna. For most of the film she is silent, saying little more than a few words on screen. She has to go from unknowing prisoner to a sheltered girl being introduced to the world saying few words. Luckily for Wildling, Powley is more than up to the task. Originally presented as your classic fish out of water story you can practically see the cogs move behind Anna’s big, blue eyes in every scene. Thrust into a world she doesn’t quite understand the fear and confusion at how the world works is evident. At the same time, she never lets you forget about how menacing she can be. Throughout the film she displays quick and sudden movements showing off a more animalistic side hinted at throughout the film. A side that builds more and more as the Wildling goes on. It’s the kind of performance that sticks with you days after you finish watching.
I was equally impressed by writer-director Fritz Böhm. His first feature film he does a great job crafting a creature feature reminiscent of classics like 2000’s Ginger Snaps. He was able to find the perfect balance of fantasy, drama and horror, particularly during the first two acts. Böhm also isn’t afraid to let loose when it comes to the gore. Never feeling excessive, he is still more than willing to showcase some killer effects. Sadly, it starts to fall apart during the final act. While the first few acts are more about Anna discovering the truth about her ancestry and adjusting to a normal life the last half hour or so feels off. It’s as if Böhm felt the need to add a typical werewolf film ending but didn’t have enough time to build up to it. It’s the rare case where the film would have benefited from a good 15 or 20 minutes more.
Of all the monsters werewolves are perhaps the most versatile when it comes to storytelling. Due to their nature they can be either straight up monster movie or metaphors ranging from puberty to lost innocence. Wildling tries to do both to mixed results. The components are certainly there with stellar cast and a versatile debuting director. Even the story, while perhaps too familiar, is unique enough to stand out on its own. Unfortunately, a rushed third act leaves what could have been an engrossing dark fairy tale missing its happily ever after.