Directed by Fritz Bohm
Written by Fritz Bohm and Florian Eder
Starring Bel Powley, Brad Dourif, Liv Tyler, Collin Kelly-Sordelet, James LeGros, Mike Faist, Troy Ruptash
I am in the middle of a quandary. On one side, coming of age stories are a dime a dozen. It’s not to say that there aren’t good coming of age stories, but they are far and few between. On the other side, I grew up not liking horror films, so I actively avoided most of them. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate the stories they tell, but the younger version of me is still apprehensive.
Fortunately, movies provide a safe environment in which storytellers can explore the genre and I can safely watch them (and let my wild imagination go., well . . . wild.) What I didn’t expect was an effort to combine the two genres together in Fritz Bohm’s “Wildling”.
What caught my attention with this film was its premise. Anna has spent most of her life locked in an attic and attended to by a man she refers to as “Daddy.” As the story begins, we know that her captivity is not normal nor is “Daddy’s” treatment of her. She is prone to nightmares of something called the Wildling that lives in the forest surrounding their house and “Daddy” does his best to keep her fears at bay.
As the story progresses Anna, who is played by Bel Powley knows there is a symbolism to her dreams. Horror favorite Brad Dourif plays “Daddy.” The script by Bohm and Florian Eder establishes their relationship, but also provides a counterbalance for the end of the film. As Anna breaks out of her prison, she is introduced to modern life, having been taken in by a local sheriff, Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler).
It is as she learns to integrate into society that Anna learns her true nature. Bohm and Eder are careful to transition the caretaker role from a father figure, who you might say was abusive beyond the captivity aspect, to a mother figure who tried to nurture Anna. A nice counterbalance to this nurture theme is the inclusion of a rebellious teenaged son, Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet). For Anna, her emotions and bodily functions start to take hold, with murderous consequences.
This transition period sets us up for a fantastical third act in which Anna battles the old guard, who were meant to protect Anna from herself. It was a bold choice to allow Anna to develop as the character did, both in exposition and in terms of special effects. As stunning as her transformation becomes, the story falters, leaving the third act to be more of an afterthought than a satisfying conclusion.
I give props for Mr. Bohm and Mr. Eder for even trying something like this. It’s themes parallel society’s struggles for equality and its disdain for torture. I appreciated the performances and the camerawork, especially when Brad Dourif was on screen.
As I write this and I think about it, some of the best coming of age stories use the horror genre and successfully. This is a bold attempt at telling the story from a female protagonist’s point of view, one that I’m happy was screened at the recently concluded International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, part of the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival. It doesn’t entirely succeed, and it didn’t need to either. It makes its statement successfully enough that we are entertained by its themes.
2.75 out of 4 stars