It’s always neat when a filmmaker gets to direct a feature for the first time and gain traction with their debut, one can sometimes get a sense of a fascinating career to come from an artist’s initial output. German director Fritz Böhm scores huge points in this arena with his debut feature Wildling, a wonderful concoction of folk horror sensibilities, a coming of age tale, lycanthropic creature effects, moody ethereal atmospheres and odes to Grimm Fairytale lore. It’s a lot to take on but never feels like too much for him or his accomplished cast of actors who all give beautiful performances.
Ana (Bel Powley) is a young girl who is raised alone in a remote cabin by a man she knows only as Daddy (Brad Dourif). He tells her her she cannot go outside for fear of the Wildling, a monster who eats children and hunts for her as she is the last of her kind. When she becomes a teenager things get complicated and through circumstance she finds herself in the outside world, a small town whose Sheriff (Liv Tyler) takes her in. She’s changing though and as the encroaching Northwest wilderness surrounds the town like an elemental spirit, so too does her emerging true nature haunt these people and cause fear and hatred, especially in a few folks who have hunted her race in the nearby mountains for generations while a mysterious, silent woodsman (cult actor James LeGros is right at home in this type of thing) hover around the woods around them.
This is an absolutely gorgeous film and hits hard for a number of reasons. Powell is a great find and turns confused naïveté into fearsome, raw primal power in a very physical performance. Brad Dourif is legendary and pretty much incapable of work that is not astonishing, and here too he provides a tragic, violent, conflicted and very intense portrayal of a man whose actions and decisions follow him like a storm. The film is beautifully shot, fluidly edited, the story is rich, deep yet never over complicated or stuffed with any stale exposition. Paul Haslinger, formerly of Tangerine Dream, composers an earthy, ambient and altogether classic original score full of nature’s essence, the danger of forests at night and the visceral thrill of discovering ones very own identity for the first time. It’s drama, horror, folklore and more in one seamless package and I love it.