As 2018 comes to an end, Netflix is finally getting around to streaming smaller horror releases from earlier in the year. Maven Pictures debuted their coming-of-age werewolf film, Wildling, at the South by Southwest in March. Less than a month later, IFC Midnight gave Wildling a limited released in theatres and video-on-demand. Critics were mildly impressed, but Wildling quietly faded after its brief release. Now Netflix is introducing this little indie flick to larger audiences.
Anna has been raised alone, locked in an attic, by a man she calls ‘Daddy’. At bedtime, ‘Daddy’ tells Anna about the ‘Wildling’, a beast that hunts her day and night. As Anna begins puberty, ‘Daddy’ begins giving her injections to treat a mysterious illness. When these treatments seemingly fail, ‘Daddy’ tries to kill himself, leaving Anna alone. Rescued and taken in by the local sheriff and her brother, Anna is introduced to a bigger worlds than she’s ever known. But soon Anna’s body begins rapidly and her nightmares of ‘Wildling’s’ intensify. Now Anna must confront the awful secret of her past.
Wildling Safely Treads Familiar Ground
First-time director Fritz Böhm does an admirable job crafting an engaging movie with a script he wrote along with Florian Eder. Yet for the most part, Wildling safely covers ground previously tread by a host of edgier horror movies. Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People touched on bestial transformations and feminine sexuality in the 1940’s. Over 30 years later, Stephen King’s Carrie drew similar parallels between a young woman’s awakening sexuality and unspeakable powers. Indie horror fans may also recall the provocative 2007 Teeth. And yes, Canadian horror classic Ginger Snaps more directly linked adolescent female sexuality with the ‘werewolf’s curse.’
There are few scares but Wildling captures the feeling of a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale.
As compared to these movies, Wildling lacks such subversive elements. What the movie does have going for it is Bohm’s confident direction. Wildling arguably lacks surprises but Böhm bathes the movie in ambient tone. There are few scares but Wildling captures the feeling of a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale. Though Bohm steers away from body horror as Anna ‘changes’, he aptly handles the bits of more traditional horror elements in the film’s final act. Fans of explicit gore may be disappointed as Wilding never fully lets loose. But Bohm’s treatment of the ‘werewolf’ elements is definitely in keeping with the tone established across the movie.
Strong Performances Elevate The Familiar Story
Character relationships and performances further lend Wildling a significant boost. Young Bel Powley fully commits to her performances of the naive Anna. As a result, Anna’s character arc from confused and lonely teen to a confident woman is fully satisfying. In particular, Anna’s relationship with Ray manages to capture the same youthful innocence of memorable past coming-of-age stories. Without these believable relationships and strong performances, Wildling likely disappoints as a ‘been there, seen that’ horror outing.
Both Tyler and Dourif are integral as competing ‘parent’ figures for Anna, each struggling in their own way to support her as she ‘changes’.
In key supporting roles, Liv Tyler and Brad Dourif turn in quiet but strong performances. Both Tyler and Dourif are integral as competing ‘parent’ figures for Anna, each struggling in their own way to support her as she ‘changes’. But it’s the relationship between Anna and Dourif’s ‘Daddy’ that gives Wildling a bit of a twist. It’s not so much a shocking story direction. Most viewers will figure it out very shortly into the movie. But their relationship has a layer of emotional complexity not typically seen in this sort of movie. Not surprisingly, Dourif hits the material out of the ballpark. A vastly underrated character actor, Dourif makes the most of the deeper character material with which he’s given.
Wildling Offers a Quietly Confident Spin on a Familiar Story
Like zombie films from the last decade or so, Wildling plays with genre expectations and delivers a very different type of werewolf movie. No full moons. No silver bullets. Instead first-time director uses the lycanthrope mythology to tell a quietly effective coming-of-age story. It’s not necessarily original nor does Wilding reach the heights of Ginger Snaps. But in what’s amounted to another good year for horror, Wilding carves out a small niche for itself as a suprisingly moving indie film.