“Do you want to hear a story? Do you want me to tell you about the Wildling?”
Fritz Böhm’s feature debut Wildling opens with a story of monsters and bestiality told by a Daddy (Brad Dourif) to a little girl (Arlo Mertz) at bedtime. Yet the place where Anna hears this story – a wooden cabin in wild forestland – mirrors the mythic tropes of Daddy’s fairytale, suggesting a certain fluidity between his fictions and her reality. The truth is Daddy is always trying to control both Anna and her narrative, through words and diet and medicine – and over time we get the idea that her barred window and electrified door are designed less to keep the legendary Wildling out than to keep Anna in. This is Dogtooth for the American North.
Aged 16, Anna (now played by Bel Powley, from 2015’s The Diary Of A Teenage Girl) does finally emerge, and like the female counterpart to the foundlings from The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser, Bad Boy Bubby and Brigsby Bear, she must learn to navigate a world that is alien to her. Here Anna happily falls under the wing of outsider Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler), the city-born Sheriff who found her in the cabin, and learns for the first time about mums and menstruation. She also falls for Ellen’s school-age brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet), who, according to Anna’s awakening taste for meat, “smell[s] like a hamburger.” Yet it is not so easy to escape the grip of patriarchy, and at a certain point Daddy’s metaphors catch up with Anna, transforming her awkward adolescence into a werewolf story that merges the monstrous feminine with a newfound liberation.
Ultimately Wildling becomes a full-blown genre film, embracing forest fantasy and playing out like a creature feature. Yet while a mysterious wolfskinned woodsman (James Le Gros) and loving, accommodating Ray accept Anna for who she is in all her snarling wildness, it is the town’s predatory menfolk, with their rape-happy bullying and conspiratorial abuse, who are the real monsters.