Opening with a scary bedtime story as only Exorcist III‘s sinister Brad Dourif can tell it, of the long sharp teeth and nails of the Wildling, Anna’s childhood is far from normal, her only companion the man she knows as Daddy who keeps her a prisoner and tells her that the only place she will be safe is in that bedroom of the bare brick walls with the barred windows.

In the middle of the deep forest, the seasons change and Anna dreams of walking the forest at night, of things that squelch and beasts which bite, but she believes that she must stay inside, conditioned by Daddy to never question. Kept in isolation, his is the only voice she has ever heard, the only truth she has ever known, and her belief is total until the day he puts the gun to his head.

Found by Sheriff Ellen Cooper (Space Station 76‘s Liv Tyler), when released from the hospital Anna (Detour‘s Bel Powley) moves in with Ellen and her younger brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) with whom she now attends high school; at first an awkward transition, she soon manages to make friends and is invited to a party with drinking and teenage boys.

When one of those boys goes missing Ellen is put in a compromised position, obstructing the investigation as she protects Anna whose behaviour is becoming more strange, drawn to the woods she has always been warned not to enter for fear of the Wildling who ate all the other children…

The feature directorial debut of Fritz Böhm, for two thirds of its duration Wildling runs parallel to Jonas Alexander Arnby’s vastly superior Når dyrene drømmer (When Animals Dream), a teenage girl with a severe body hair issue whose family hide a secret which they try to control with medication, her life impacted by the nice teenage boy to whom she is drawn and the nasty teenage boy who taunts and bullies her and ends up shredded.

With even the fish-packing plant transmuted into the local propensity for hunting, they laugh and tell Anna “Not many vegetarians in this town” as she gorges herself on meat, more foreshadowing Ellen simply accepts having failed to arrange for a social worker to assist her in socialisation or assess her educational level despite having been brought up in isolation by a man who may have kidnapped her.

The master of turning a blind eye, despite the passage of several months during the narrative Ellen fails at any point to question Anna’s “Daddy” despite having established that the girl he has kept captive is not his daughter, not that being a blood relation would excuse imprisoning a minor, his miraculous recovery one of many liberties taken in the script co-written by Böhm and Florian Eder.

Having somehow survived half his head being splattered across the bedroom wall with only some scars and fully in possession of his mental faculties, or at least no crazier than before, Anna ability to vanish into the vast area of misty woodland without trace until the showdown requires all the involved parties to stumble across each other simultaneously is similarly remarkable.

The forest rendezvous perhaps arranged thanks to cellphones which suddenly work in the final act despite dialogue in the first stating there is no reception in the area, any surprises in Wildling are of the disappointing variety, a parade of telegraphed revelations and face-palming stupidity as a sub-Twilight teen romance develops, all moonlit swimming and heartfelt gazes, perhaps the most astonishing achievement of the film that Ray is in possession of less personality than Edward Cullen.

Despite her vulnerable and frantic performance Powley is utterly wasted without the support of a competent script, as are Dig Two Graves‘ Troy Ruptash as Ellen’s concerned deputy and Person of Interest‘s James Le Gros as the backwoods shaman clad in animal skin who provides convenient exposition before vanishing from the film entirely, and with nowhere left to run but the darkened forest it stumbles in the switch to full-blown horror on the narrative debris left behind earlier.

Wildling is currently on general release




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