With Classical Horror Tropes, Identity Crises And Emotion, THE WILDLING Is A Classic In The Making
“Do you want to hear a story? Do you want me to tell you about the Wildling? His teeth are long and sharp like this. And his hair is long and black all over his whole body.” A story told over a darkened shot of Brad Douriff’s mouth and hand gestures explaining a creature of myth to an inquisitive and frightened little girl perfectly opens the atmosphere and paranoid fear built within Fritz Bohm’s The Wildling. It’s a great creature feature that holds true in my opinion to the Universal Monster films of old and just like those underlines very poignant themes on today’s society within its tragic tale.
Anna (Bel Powley) is a young girl we watch grow up behind bolted doors secluded from the world save a window that looks out to the forest she longs to be a part of. Her caretaker is her Daddy (Brad Douriff) who holds so much endearing love toward his little girl. Anna in her teenage years becomes very ill and it seems she can no longer be cared for by her Daddy and through a string of insane events ends up in the care of the town’s Sheriff, Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler). Anna is having a hard time growing accustomed to life outside her room, trying to understand society, other teenagers, and her own growing body that feels different from everyone else.
The relationship dynamic between Daddy and Anna is built upon the fantastic acting of both Powley and Douriff, I was entranced every time the two of them shared a scene together. Douriff has always been one of the most amazing underrated actors of all time but here he shines through greatly as his character’s motives and choices turn on a dime almost. There’s an internal struggle within Daddy throughout the movie on who he is that goes perfectly with Anna’s identity crisis. Anna’s crisis comes from actual instinctual birth while Daddy’s comes from chosen paths that lead him to tear his life asunder in many ways. Their dynamic is tragically beautiful in opposing ways from the beginning of the film until the end of the film and will have you rooting and crying for each character as their paths differentiate and cross. It’s an emotional ride, to say the least in your love for these two. It begs the questions, “What truly makes us evil? Does the idea of that evil mean you deserve to be destroyed? Are you inherently wrong? Is there a greater good?” All questions these characters bring to the table.
If you’re like me you always want a cool monster, especially in a creature feature like this. You will be pleasantly surprised on the choices made on the Wildling itself. This could have easily gone two ways. One with "The Wildling" being a concept made up in Anna’s head and two, she is indeed the titular creature. Either way, there is indeed a creature within the film to see but I won’t reveal which path the film takes. What I will say is that the brilliance of the film relies on the theme throughout that many I feel can relate to. We are all creatures born into this world with basic instinctual needs. Eat and procreate being our most basic of needs. Taming any beast to submit to certain standards can lead to dire consequences. Daddy tries to lock Anna up and tame her throughout her life. He has literally tried to inhibit her hormones by injecting her with chemicals that would inhibit her from having a period. In essence much like most parents would like to keep their kids from growing up, he has tried to stop her puberty.
Your teenage years can be your most confusing of times and there are people out there who would rather not explain sex or bodily functions to their children. Inhibiting that basic instinctual need only drives it harder and usually takes it to dark and unhealthy places. Whether she be beast for real or in her head, Anna has never gotten to learn of physical pleasures or understand how to take care of her bodily functions. She has to hide who she is and what she could be. She has been told her whole life with her father’s cautionary tale of the Wildling that she is indeed a beast. Choices made by a parental figure in what they thought was protection leads to worse things than imagined.
The film is extraordinarily put together with many moments that tug your heartstrings and is put together like a perfect puzzle with each piece revealing itself throughout the film with dialogue that hurts and shakes you. The acting all around is superb from everyone and even has an amazing performance from Phantasm II’s James LeGross in an almost unrecognizable role as a guide for Anna. I cannot recommend this film enough as a perfect exploration of puberty and a tragic monster story that I think thanks to its performances and excellent structure will in time become a classic.