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Wildling review - a coming-of-age creature feature that suffers from lack of depth


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Placing the teenage girl as the monster is a longstanding theme in popular culture, particularly within the horror genre. Films such as Carrie, Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body, and even the 2016 Cannes contestant Raw - all offer gruesome and gory depictions of growing up in the female body. Wildling, the feature debut from German director Fritz Böhm, seeks to join that list.

The independent creature feature is tied to the trauma of a girl named Anna (The Diary of a Teenage Girl’s Bel Powley), whose body starts to go through several disturbing changes following her rescue from isolated captivity. Plenty for the film to sink its teeth into, then. Which begs the question: why doesn’t it?

Bel Powley in Wildling (2018)

The initial setup shows promise; opening with the creepy silhouette of 'Daddy' (Brad Dourif), who asks a young Anna if she would like to hear about the Wildling, a ferocious, child-eating monster who lives in the surrounding woods. To keep Anna protected, 'Daddy' keeps her locked in the attic on a strictly vegetarian diet, all the while administering her with a painful “medicine” to stop her period.

By the time she reaches sixteen, she’s barely alive. Luckily she’s rescued by the solicitous Sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler), who tries to help her adjust to a normal adolescence outside of the woods. Things don’t stay normal for long, however, as Anna’s body starts to develop in a very unsettling way - along with her childhood nightmares of the Wildling.

Indeed, the first act plays almost like a contemporary Grimm Brothers tale, with Böhm and production designer Lauren Fitzsimmons crafting a distinctly supernatural air within the primal setting of the forest. At first this contrasts fairly well to the small-town seclusion of Anna’s new home, in large part due to the absorbing cinematography from Get Out’s Toby Oliver. Böhm does well with a surprisingly low budget, too. He knows what the film should look like; he just doesn’t seem to know what to do below the surface.

Take the inevitable romantic arc between Anna and Cooper’s younger brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet). It’s bland, underdeveloped and driven by plot convenience rather than any sobering mutual connection. Most of the relationships are, in fact. And even if Anna’s sexual awakening is something the film truly wants to explore, it doesn’t allow itself enough time to do so in any meaningful way - nor anything else. This could be blamed to an extent on the rushed production schedule, though the lacklustre screenplay suggests otherwise.

If there’s any saving grace to Wildling it undoubtedly comes from Bel Powley, who manages to do some truly impressive work with minimal dialogue. Is it any wonder the camera likes to linger so much on her face when her eyes are able to say everything her character doesn’t? What a shame the rest of the film doesn’t match this commitment.

Wildling is in cinemas now, distributed by IFC Films.

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