Hi, folks, Precious Roy here... I got a chance to see the film WILDLING after reviewing the trailer a few weeks back. WILDLING stars Bel Powley, Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, Collin Kelly-Sordelet and James Le Gros; it was written by Fritz Böhm and Florian Eder, and directed by Fritz Böhm. There’s a lot to say here, so I’ll try to prune it down to the essentials. Wildling is an offbeat werewolf film, and it’s not going to be the film everyone is expecting, but it’s definitely worth seeing. There will be spoilers ahead.
In that trailer review, I mentioned feeling a bit bummed out that the ‘twist’ about Anna being the wildling herself spoils the movie—or, at least, what I thought the movie was going to be about. Having seen WILDLING, I’m convinced that the director (Fritz Böhm) doesn’t give a damn that you go into this movie knowing Anna’s a <gasp> werewolf. That's not what he's on about. It isn't a mystery for the audience; it's solely for Anna.
Last week, I was lucky enough to speak with one of WILDLING’s leads, and the first actor to make me want to be in the film industry: the soft-spoken, edgy Brad Dourif. I’ve been a fan of his since seeing RAGTIME as a kid. The scene where his meek character becomes the dark-horse newest member of Coalhouse Walker’s anti-fireman gang is easily my favorite moment in all of film. Dourif’s career is an amazing collection of character performances, and everyone will have their favorite; mine is Younger Brother announcing awkwardly that he can make the Walker gang bombs. My interview with Brad is at the bottom of the review, just above the Talkbacks.
WILDLING is being marketed as horror, but I’m unconvinced it is a horror film. I’ve been trying to pin down what it is, and the best I can do is call it high YA fantasy. I believe it falls somewhere between PAN’S LABYRINTH and the TWILIGHT movies—and I don’t mean that in a bitchy context, at all.
WILDLING is about Anna (Bel Powley), who we watch growing up from infancy in the home of Daddy (Dourif). We watch as Daddy tells a young Anna a very scary bedtime story about the Wildling, the monster outside in the woods, trying to get in the small cottage they share to devour her. As the years click along, we see clues that Daddy’s trying his best to keep her a child and keep her locked up inside her small bedroom using lies, chicanery, and drugs. When Daddy’s methods begin to fall apart, he eats his gun.
Anna wakes up in a hospital and experiences another place outside of the small room she has been kept in for the first time. Sheriff Cooper (Liv Tyler) investigates Anna’s sudden appearance, trying to work out who the mysterious Daddy is as he recovers from his non-fatal suicide attempt, and begins a friendship with Anna. As Anna begins to go out into the small town, she begins to discover the secrets Daddy has hidden from her through her life.
(Okay, that’s the best introduction I can give you without really spoiling the rest of the film, so be prepared to have what little surprise is left taken from you if you continue to read.)
I compared this movie to two films earlier: PAN’S LABYRINTH and the TWILIGHT films. I definitely feel like the best audience for WILDLING is the YT audience that used to watch TWILIGHT, THE MAZE RUNNER, and the HARRY POTTER films. The difference between those films and WILDLING is a protagonist worth following, something more akin to Ofelia in PAN’S LABYRINTH. Instead of the fantastic music and sets of PAN’S LABYRINTH, WILDLING keeps the story low-key, with no fairy tale to it.
Bel Powley’s Anna makes the perfect relatable ingenue for teenage girls everywhere. Unlike Bella Swan, she is not a passenger to the plot; the story is about Anna finding agency and her truest self as she explores the world she has been cut off from, with a little help along the way from Sheriff Cooper, the local hermit Wolf Man (James Le Gros), and Cooper’s teenage brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) as a love interest. All of this is complicated when Anna takes a life in self-defense and Daddy breaks out of the hospital to come after her. I can’t speak highly enough about the performance Bel Powley gives as Anna. It’s intuitive, sort of like watching a mash-up of AMELIE and a Doug Jones character.
Anna’s journey is about shedding off patriarchal control; most of the men literally want to keep her from becoming something powerful enough to hunt them and will violate their moral compasses to restore order. Almost all of the problems and obstacles Anna encounters in WILDLING are male-driven. She is lied to and manipulated mostly by men. It’s Sheriff Cooper’s tell-it-straight approach that sets her free, plus her growing feelings for Ray. Ray is at first fragile but becomes an important source of support for Anna as their love grows.
Is this a werewolf movie for werewolf movie fans? Well, no. The violence is not very heavy, the transformation isn’t on parade for you, and there isn’t a sense of the werewolf being an unruly monster killing innocents who stray from the path—everyone Anna kills has it comin’. Is it a good werewolf movie? Yes, and no—it’s not really horror, but if we’re going to call Michael Nichols’ WOLF a werewolf film, WILDLING also qualifies as a werewolf story. Asking if WILDLING is a good werewolf film is a bit like asking if DePalma’s CARRIE is as good as SCANNERS, or perhaps AKIRA. There’s a similar vein, but a very different story being told here.
What follows is my interview with Brad Dourif. It’s incredibly short, as I had only a ten-minute window, and managed to waste a few minutes of that gushing to Mr. Dourif about my favorite performance.
Precious Roy: How did you come to be a part of WILDLING?
Brad Dourif: ...just a normal, through-an-agent, offer!
PR: Had you read the script in advance, or was the role explained to you?
BD: Oh, no, I read the script, and then I went and talked to Fritz before I took the role…
PR: It’s kind of an unusual part to play, in that you’re both the enemy and the parent of the protagonist…
PR: I can’t think of anything you’ve ever played before that’s even close to this—it’s yet another great character role for you.
PR: Was there a particular moment in the script that made you think, “This is why I’ve got to do this…”?
BD: No… I think it was just that… I don’t do fathers often enough, and I wanted to… I have played them… I think the exciting thing about being an actor, is ACTING. Get on there, and if you really connect with an actor, it’s really great.
PR: You seemed to really connect with all of the actors who played Anna, and of course, in particular with Bel Powley.
BD: Yeah, I mean, I felt like Bel was my daughter. I really did. That’s how I felt about her, by the end of the shoot.
PR: You both have big, expressive eyes, so it makes sense… you actually quite look like Bel Powley, despite Daddy and Anna being unrelated.
BD: (laughs) Oh, well—thank you!
PR: What was your favorite experience on WILDLING, out of the entire shoot?
PR: Was there one stand-out moment…?
BD: I think working with Bel was the height of WILDLING, for me. There’s something exciting about… number one, she and I connected really well, which is great… and two, watching a really young actress who’s the Real Thing… and watching her work, and seeing how she goes about it… that’s cool.
PR: I’ve got friends who desperately want to know, so pardon me, please, I’ve got to ask: do you have any news regarding the DEADWOOD movie?
BD: Oh, I’ve heard that it’s supposed to be this fall… but, it’s supposed to have been ‘fall’ for years, now...
BD: I just think it’s going to be really difficult to get a date set, and then to have everybody turn up there.
PR: Oh, no…
BD: Yeah… I think that’s a really hard thing to pull off. It’s possible… but… WE WILL SEE. I hope so… it was one of the best experiences of my life, shooting that series.
Many thanks to Brad Dourif for graciously sharing his time with me! WILDLING opens in theaters (in N.Y. and L.A.), VOD and Digital HD today, April 13.