Her entire life Anna has been locked away in an attic. Her father says it is to keep her safe from the Wildling, a vicious monster who ate all the other children. At the age of 16, Anna ends up free from the attic and taken in by the town sheriff. As she begins to go through the changes of puberty, she faces other changes as well. It seems that the stories Anna was told as a child aren’t quite what they seem.
Fritz Böhm makes his feature film directorial debut, while also having cowrote the film with Florian Eder.This film starts out very promising. It begins by following Anna as a child. This gives the audience time to get to know the character while also seeing her strange upbringing. The filmmakers do a very good job of showing Anna’s childlike innocence, despite her being a teenager, when she finally leaves the safety of her attic for the real world. Everything is new and different, and Anna’s reactions are well-written. There is one specific scene that stands out in particular. In it, Anna goes to a high school party. Afterward, she is pursued and attacked by a beast in the woods, creating a unique take on an attempted rape. The way the scene is shot is absolutely stunning, and it has a powerful message that it sends.
Where the film comes apart is when Anna starts to go through her many physical changes. Much of the issues stem from the visual aspects of the film. As Anna first starts to transform, her face looks shockingly dark. Part of this is due to the prosthetics, and part of it is because the entire film is simply much darker than it should be. When the final transformation is finally revealed, the special effects makeup is very well done. My only issue is that it looks a bit too much like a species of Australopithecus. Whether this was an intentional decision I’m not sure, but it felt like a strange de-evolution instead of a transformation into something new. There is also some poorly executed CGI used to enhance various scenes that not only takes away from the imagery, but it also seems unnecessary.
The second half of the film also has some odd character choices. One of those choices is the arc Anna’s father takes. His character does a complete 180 halfway through the film in a way that doesn’t feel genuine to what audiences have already seen of the character. There is also a character who acts as the “harbinger”, commonly seen in horror. The audience never learns who he is or why he’s there, which makes his presence stand out like a sore thumb. It is unfortunate that these things took away from what began as a truly compelling film.
For the most part the performances are the strongest aspect of this film. Bel Powley (A Royal Night Out, Carrie Pilby) plays the mysterious Anna. What makes Powley’s performance so compelling is how she conveys Anna’s innocence and wonder as she discovers new and exciting things out in the real world. Yet, even with how innocent and naive she is, there is still a noticeable strength within her that comes out more and more as the plot progresses. Liv Tyler (The Strangers, Armageddon) plays the town sheriff, Ellen Cooper. It is great to see Tyler in another horror film, but this is not her strongest performance. It isn’t necessarily bad, but it comes across as though she is simply going through the motions instead of putting any true emotion behind her portrayal. Horror legend Brad Dourif (Child’s Play, Alien: Resurrection) plays Anna’s father known only as “Daddy.” While the writing takes his character all over the spectrum, Dourif still does his best with the material he was given. His performance in the first half of the film, when he is caring for Anna as she grows up, is especially fascinating to watch. No matter what the role, Dourif always gives it his all.
Wildling has a promising start, but it comes apart when Anna’s transformation begins. It feels almost like two different films in one, and this unfortunately leads to multiple plot holes and strange character arcs. The dark coloring of the film and poorly used CGI didn’t help this matter. While the practical effects are well done, there is something about the seeming de-evolution of Anna that makes the transformation feel wrong. Luckily, the strong performances by Powley and Dourif help to carry the film from the compelling beginning to the convoluted end. Although this film may not be the strongest first feature film for Böhm and Eder, it is enjoyable enough that I’m interested to see what they do in the future.
OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10