Wildlike (2015)

by - September 25th, 2015 - Movie Reviews


Emotion and Nature Walk Hand-in-Hand in Wildlike

When her troubled mother checks herself into rehab, 14-year-old Mackenzie (Ella Purnell) leaves Seattle to live with her mysterious uncle (Brian Geraghty) in the far of reaches of the Alaskan wilds. But things turn sour, the teenager compelled to flee pulling out all the stops as she attempts to make the long, arduous trip home. Eager to find help but unsure of how to go about it, Mackenzie runs across backpacker Rene (Bruce Greenwood), the grieving widower dealing within his own issues so the last thing he needs is some kid following him around. Yet the two still manager to make a connection, and soon they’re hiking across the countryside, in the process learning life lessons that will compel them to keep moving forward no matter what difficulties should arise.

PHOTO: Amplify Releasing

PHOTO: Amplify Releasing

Wildlike is the kind of simple, delicate, nondescript little independent film that sneaks up out of nowhere and melodiously breaks your heart clean in two. It’s a flower of a film growing to unimaginable heights in the cruelest of conditions, never wearing its emotions out in the open yet showcasing them just enough so they have a searing power that earn their tears with subtle, barely perceptible precision. Writer/director Frank Hall Green has created a visually resplendent drama that never forgets the human story lurking at its center, Mackenzie and Rene’s unanticipated parallel journeys taking both exactly where they need to go.

It’s almost too subtle. Blink or turn away from the screen at just the wrong moment and you might end up thinking the reasons for Mackenzie trekking into the wilderness are not what they really are. The interactions with her uncle are almost overly friendly, the underlying tension and abhorrence voyaging through these times together close to imperceptible. As for Rene, while it takes quite a while until his reasons for helping the teen reveal themselves, in all fairness nothing that’s disclosed comes as a shock, thus diluting their inherent power to move the emotional needle, if only just a little.

Yet less really is more the majority of the time, and the fact Green knows this, relies up on it, even, is a blessing in more ways than one. Audiences are not dumb. They like to put pieces of an interesting, thought-provoking puzzle together for themselves. They don’t need every nuance, every facet of the equation quantified and explained for them. What Mackenzie is running from, as horrible as it ultimately might be, is no great surprise. For that matter, neither is Rene’s growing fatherly streak that begins to blossom by being in her company. The friendship that develops between the two might be born of necessity but it’s built of stronger material than that by the end, allowing for the ambiguity of the finale to have a hopeful ebullience that’s naturalistic yet concrete all at one time.

PHOTO: Amplify Releasing

PHOTO: Amplify Releasing

Purnell’s performance is strong. A teenager without direction, coming from a place of ineffable hardship, she’s both streetwise and hopelessly naïve, thinking she knows exactly what it is others want from her only to be caught dumbstruck when her advances are turned aside. Watching her grow as a young woman and yet find comfort by being allowed to digress into being a little girl under another’s protection is amazing to behold, the Kick-Ass 2 and Maleficent bit player showing great potential and I’m eager to see what the actress is going to do next.

As for Greenwood, this is just another reminder at how superb, and consistently underrated, the veteran character actor continues to be. His work in films as diverse as Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter and Below speaks for itself, while a strong case could be made he should have received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his turn as John F. Kennedy in 2000’s Thirteen Days. Here, Greenwood deftly underplays things, only letting his dander or his excitement level rise when absolutely necessary, maintaining an airy calm that’s spellbinding.

Green uses his Alaskan exteriors magnificently, Hillary Spera’s (Black Rock) cinematography showcasing these wide open vistas in ways that augments the on-screen journey of the protagonists, never overshadowing or minimizing it. He also finds just the right moment for a variety of actors to pop in and make their mark, Geraghty, Ann Dowd, Joshua Leonard and Nolan Gerard Funk all adding just the right touch to their respective scenes allowing for their appearances to matter as far as the overarching story itself is concerned. It really is a pity more people won’t take the time to watch Wildlike, especially in a darkened theatre where it will be showcased the best. Even so, make no mistake, the movie is excellent, and here’s my hope people out there will put for the effort required to give it a look.

Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)

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