The theme of female maturation is growing more and more popular with the increasing number of women working behind and in front of the camera in horror. It has a fine tradition already, of course, from Ginger Snaps all the way up to Raw. What’s less widely seen is Chucky himself, Brad Dourif, in a role besides that of the infamous killer doll. Both are present in Wildling, a dark fairytale/coming-of-age body horror movie starring Dourif as the kindly father to a young girl he’s keeping locked up at home for unspecified reasons. As the film opens, Dourif regales his young charge with tales of the so-called “wildling” lurking outside her barred-shut windows.
The telling of this story kicks things off in the manner of an actual, Grimm-style fairytale, from the big, wooden bed in which young Anna sleeps, to the encroaching woodland surrounding the house, and, of course, those bars on the windows. Anna is a princess in captivity, and captivity stories are big money for horror (as with the recent, brilliant Unsane).
The tension, at least in the beginning, comes from whether or not Dourif’s father is lying to his daughter. Considering he’s played by Chucky, horror fans know to be wary. When it seems his young charge is reaching maturity, he’s quick to medicate her to within an inch of her life.
Now a teenager, and played by Brit actress Bel Powley, she breaks free and the film quickly switches gears as it’s revealed to be set in the present day. A hospital stint lets Anna know her father’s been pumping her full of drugs to halt her maturity.
Taken in by the kindly local sheriff (played, rather well it must be said, by Liv Tyler), Anna is given the opportunity to finally experience a slice of real life, from crushing on boys to attending wild parties. But something is lurking beneath the surface, threatening to be exposed at any moment.
Wildling, the debut feature from German director Fritz Böhm, is a gorgeously-captured movie. Earthy tones — blues, greens, and browns — populate the frame and make everything seem wider and more expansive. There’s a fantasy feel to it even outside of the typical monster movie elements.
Echoes of Ginger Snaps abound, naturally, as well as allusions to Twilight — if Bella were the monster, instead of Edward. The body horror is great, the makeup work strong, and the gore effective but not too prevalent as to tip over into gross-out territory.
Powley, so wonderful in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, stretches a whole different kind of acting muscle here. Tasked with communicating both wisdom beyond her years and a wide-eyed, childlike innocence, she nails the balancing act between the two.
She’s inherently watchable but also completely untrustworthy. When Anna tells a boy “you smell like a hamburger,” it’s hard to tell whether she’s hungry or horny. That’s the point, of course, that she’s neither a victim nor a perpetrator, but rather a slave to her own changing body.
Alongside Tyler, the film is proudly female-fronted, the horror of female maturation putting it alongside the likes of Thelma, Raw, The Witch, Veronica, and even comedy movie Blockers, which discussed the fear of women’s sexuality and the double standard with men losing their virginity being something to celebrate.
Wildling doesn’t quite reach the heights of a Raw, but it’s not trying to. The forest, where most of the film’s most explosive scenes take place, does look pretty enchanted, suggesting Böhm intended for it to be taken as a dark fantasy story, rather than a true-to-life warning.
Still, it’s a strong, assured debut with a cracking cast and plenty of weird, dark storybook elements to surprise even the most diehard body horror fans.
Catch Wildling in theaters, on VOD and Digital HD from April 13, 2018
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Fritz Böhm
Writer(s): Fritz Böhm, Florian Eder
Stars: Brad Dourif, Bel Powley, Liv Tyler,
Release date: April 13, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Maven Pictures
Length: 92 minutes