1 hour, 32 minutes
I maintain that there are certain genres that work for certain people, logic be damned. For example. I dig zombie movies. I don’t know why. I don’t like horror. I’m not a fan of gore. But give me anything from “Shaun of the Dead” to “Dawn of the Dead,” from “World War Z” to “28 Days Later” and I’m happy.
The flip side of that coin is there are genres that you may want to like, even actively seek out with hope and optimism in your heart, and they all fall flat. For me, that genre is werewolf movies. I can really only name one that is really good — “American Werewolf in London.” Beyond that, however, they’re all varying shades of lame, be they “The Howling,” Jack Nicholson in “Wolf,” or all those shirtless kids in “Twilight.
And I keep finding new ones to watch. This week’s movie is a new take on those old tropes — the indie “Wildling” that’s currently playing in limited release, as well as on streaming.
“Wildling” takes the whole body changing idea and makes it a metaphor for puberty — a tack that’s not exactly new, but was interesting nonetheless. The first half of the film is actually pretty good, if a little rushed. Our heroine is Anna, and Anna knows nothing but her room, her window, and Daddy.
As the films opens, we see Anna from a young age as she grows into a teen. Throughout the years, Daddy is the only person Anna sees — indeed, the only other person Anna believes exists. All the other people — or children specifically — are gone, eaten by the Wildling, a fearsome monster Daddy tells Anna awaits her if she ever tries to leave the house.
Still, Anna is a happy girl, and Daddy, despite the keeping her locked in the house, seems to genuinely love her, and not in a creepy way.
Things get weirder when Anna gets her first period, however, and Daddy puts her on a regimen of stomach injections designed to “cure her sickness.” Yeesh.
Not long after, Anna’s time with Daddy comes to an abrupt end, catapulting her into the wider world where she is taken in by the kindly sheriff in the small Northwestern town where they live. The sheriff, Ellen Cooper, played by Liv Tyler, realizes quickly how little Anna knows about the world or her changing body. Turns out Sheriff Cooper doesn’t know much about it, either.
Before long, Anna is meeting other kids, going to dances, and getting attacked by drunk boys — encounters that don’t end well, as you can imagine. Gradually Anna becomes aware of the secret that dwells within. If only she can manage to control it.
I wanted to like this movie. It’s got great critical buzz and, as a I said, the first half had some interesting ideas. But the closer we come to werewolf territory, the worse it gets. The villains get more buffoonish, actress Bel Powley, as Anna — who has great haunted eyes, by the way — gets sillier and sillier the more animal she becomes. Liv Tyler is fine, but for some reason whispers most of her lines. Even the great character actor Brad Dourif falls flat.
The biggest reason this movie ultimately didn’t work for me was the zealous way they pursued their theme. The whole puberty aspect works for a while, but the writers go whole hog on that route and by the end of the movie, it’s gotten pretty stupid. There are some teen sexual situations that I found a little gratuitous — not necessarily narratively, just the way they’re shot.
Of course, the whole thing isn’t helped by the werewolf make-up that, I’m assuming, was supposed to be more reminiscent of a sasquatch, but really just looked like the little ape-boy from “Land of the Lost.”
This film is getting positive reviews across the board, but I think those reviewers are being swayed by the fact that we haven’t had a werewolf movie in a while. Take it from me, that’s probably a good thing.
“Wildling” is rated R for nudity, language, violence, and sexual situations, all involving teens.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.