More often than not, IFC Midnight has been in the business of releasing some of the best contemporary horror to be found anywhere. These are films that not only present unique perspectives for a genre that has far more diversity in its potential than people often give it, but many of them also feature performances from some of the finest veterans in horror.
Wildling is a debut feature from director Fritz Böhm (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Florian Eder), and it is a formidable, distinctive example of IFC Midnight’s continued status as a haven for powerful examples of horror. It also features a small-but-unforgettable performance from genre icon Brad Dourif (Child’s Play, The Exorcist III, and so very many more).
Wildling tells the story of a mysterious girl named Anna (Bel Powley), who is violently shifted from a strange, isolated existence in the woods, to a town of people who are profoundly curious as to where in the hell she came from. We meet Anna as a small girl under the care of someone (Dourif), who identifies himself as her father. Right from the beginning, we know that there is a lot more going on than what the film, or Dourif’s character, are suggesting to us. We know that, but we can’t be entirely sure as to where all of this will go. Böhm hooks us early with the intrigue surrounding the weird, intense, often confused Anna. He wraps this appealing, well-nurtured feeling of uncertainty, and wraps it in a tone that often reminds us of a modern-day fairytale. In many, many ways, Wildling is very much a fairytale. This is particularly true in the sense that it is a movie that believes cruelty and beauty must always be taken together. You can’t have one without the other, and that realization is at the heart of the journey taken by the characters of this film.
The movie focuses intently on Anna’s relationship to a sympathetic sheriff, played with subtlety and deep understanding by the consistently reliable Liv Tyler. With the exception of an extraordinary turn in the recent HBO series The Leftovers, we don’t see Tyler in film and television as much as we used to. Wilding reminds us that this is a shame.
Over the years, she has become a multifaceted actress who brings the essential qualities of understanding and focus to characters who are often trying to survive the horrors of middle-aged stasis. Her character here means well, and we want things to work out for her. We want her to find whatever purpose is driving her to be a figure of justice in a hellishly unknown, increasingly lawless world. We don’t want that purpose to come at the expense of Anna, obviously, and Wildling touches on this concern with grace. It deals with this subject and others with a sort of beauty that combines the real world with what we can’t help but imagine exists just beyond what we understand. Fairytales can be far denser than people realize. Wildling knows that, and creates something quite impressive in its 90 minute running time.
The end result of all of this is another win for IFC Midnight. It demands repeating one more time: If you love horror, I promise you that IFC Midnight is one of the places you need to keep your focus on. They are contributing mightily to horror’s current, and perhaps most notable, golden age. Wildling also gives us yet another filmmaker to watch out for in the future. Whatever Fritz Böhm does next, I hope it involves further studies on the subject of people trying to make sense of themselves in unfamiliar, even dangerous territory. Honestly though, anything Böhm wants to do next will probably be just fine with me.
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