Having made a splash with her stellar turn in Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Bel Powley returns for a startlingly different coming-of-age tale in the form of psychological horror drama, Wildling – the feature directorial debut of German helmer Fritz Böhm. Playing like a halfway mark between Room and Ginger Snaps, this unique offering stirs up a storm in the hands of its visibly eager director and compelling lead, a storm that may not quite rock the genre as it rightly should, but will make a powerful enough impression to matter.
Horror icon Brad Dourif is Daddy, one of those lunatics movies love to depict as living a solitary life alone in the woods. Daddy’s not quite alone, though, as he has, in captivity, Powley’s captive innocent, Anna – whom he restrains and medicates under the guise of protecting her from the deadly “Wildling” that threatens to encroach upon their home. Following her rescue and reintegration into the world, however, Anna’s now-unmedicated body is allowed to finally progress into puberty – bringing with it the requisite hormonal and emotional changes that would shake an ordinary girl’s world, but, in Anna’s case, may prove even more terrifying.
Questioning Powley’s cred as a bonafide character-actress in the making at this point feels almost moot as the young performer continues to build her career atop an unending series of interesting and engaging projects (last year’s Carrie Pilby being released straight to home platforms in the UK remains truly baffling), and Wildling marks only the next great step on Powley’s way. With solid and understated support from a post-Leftovers Liv Tyler, a welcome appearance by the always terrifying Dourif, and a very likeable emotional foil in Collin Kelly-Sordelet, Wildling’s as well as cast as it is executed – a high bar to begin with, and doubly so considering its helmer’s lack of feature-length experience.
Alas, Wildling does stumble as it goes on – with its story’s grand reveal clearly intended to have been primed over the course of its narrative, though ultimately feeling too softly handled and almost dismissively breadcrumbed that said reveal can’t help but feel a step too far in the grander sense of its own tale. Powley rolls with the punches like a true pro – and Böhm knows how to ably lean into the horror genre and mine genuine spectacle – but the shift from immersive character drama to just where Wildling winds up is unfortunately too jarring for the film to weather unblemished. It weathers what it can with distinction, however, and both Böhm and Powley stand tall in the aftermath, what they can’t quite pull off though is just how zany it teeters on becoming, and – in light of how spectacular the rest truly is – it’s a sour note upon which to conclude a stirring picture.
Wildling is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, April 20th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.