[CFF Review] 'The Wanting Mare' is a Beautiful though Repetitive Journey that Leaves You Wanting More
Dystopian futures are a setting that is perfect for horror films...
...Movies like The Bad Batch, The Road, and Platform drop us into a world where people and organizations are the most frightening when they follow their society’s rules. The Wanting Mare takes place in a time and place that is similar to our own but where the vast majority of society's strictures and structures have broken down due to some unnamed cataclysm. The film builds a visually arresting world and has a wonderful cast of “new-comers.” The only complaint that I have with the film is a major one… its’ story seems to be starting over for most of the film.
Now playing at the Chattanooga Film Festival, The Wanting Mare is the first feature length film from writer/director/actor/producer/editor Nicholas Ashe Bateman. The film takes place in a sweaty world without winter where people kill for passage to an island that, from what we are told, has only two things: winter and wild horses. It doesn’t sound like the most desirable place on the planet but it is the premise of the film that everybody wants to go there so I am willing to accept it. Within this world there is a line of mothers and daughters who share a literal dream of the world before the unnamed catastrophe. They rarely speak of it but the dream is always passed from one mother to her child. All who have this dream view it as a curse. As it leads to an emotional malaise of sorts forcing them to remember that there was once a time where things were better. Generations of women suffering remorse for something they never had the opportunity to prevent? Heady stuff, right?
And, with this, the groundwork for a solid, Children of Men type of story is laid out rather nicely. I was excited to see where the film went and how it dealt with its themes of regret and hopelessness. Unfortunately, the film never seems to deliver on the promise of its premise.
Those who sit down expecting to be taken on a journey of struggle and ambition will be disappointed to learn that the film is primarily Terrence Malick inspired shots of men and women looking at each other and narrating their feelings with very little else to carry the story. The film is very good at exploring the beginnings of things, be they relationships or desires or stories, but it does not manage to explore the middle act or the endings. When two characters, Moira (Jordan Monaghan) and Lawrence (Nicholas Ashe Bateman) meet and fall in love, we really don’t have any trouble believing that a relationship would form between the two. They are attractive young people who appear to like kissing each other. Film convention since the silent era has taught us that this is all that is necessary for two characters to fall in love. But we don’t see any development within their relationship beyond this initial attraction. Do they have anything in common? A shared goal, perhaps? Maybe the type of goal that they could both pursue and grow closer together while reaching for this brass ring? Just a suggestion.
The film appears to lose interest in itself when about thirty minutes into the movie, the story jumps ahead in time several years. This time jumping trick is used a few times. While I would love to give Nicholas Ashe Bateman the benefit of the doubt and argue that this is used to show the generational issues of this family, the material presented by the film simply does not warrant such a reading. The change in subject and time mostly only serves to tell another story of a different group of people falling in love and then skipping ahead to when they are no longer together so that we can watch the first set of people fall back in love. The Wanting Mare is more of a long form episode of Love American Style than The House At The End of Time.
Easily the most impressive element of the film is its visual language. The film takes place over decades and has several lead characters but there are key images that are loaded with meaning that persist throughout. The ticket granting passage is one such image. Another is the horse. Still another is the bare light bulb. These images are symbolic and tell of desires for escape, a need for wild freedom, and the pain of harsh knowledge. The images were carefully chosen for their connotations and show Bateman to be a thoughtful director. It is this that makes the film disappointing. To see the talent on the screen and behind the camera fail to produce a product that meets its potential due to poor scripting is a real bring down bummer.
While the visual language of the film is meaningful, the directing style is somewhat limited. Many types of shots are repeated throughout the film and the depiction of what it looks like to fall in love is not very diverse at all. The film’s only action sequence is a perfect time for Bateman to show his range but unfortunately the sequence is unimaginatively shot and the editing fails to convey the danger of the moment.
The film was shot in Maryland and Nova Scotia and cinematographer David Io Ross makes the locations look absolutely amazing. Hard rocks with wind softened edges and buildings that look like they are about to collapse rarely look so charming. The sets are dirty and the people sweaty but through the careful eye of Ross and Batemen, everything looks amazingly beautiful. This is definitely the type of film that “Every Frame a Painting” would have loved.
The cast is quite amazing. As all the characters are far from loquacious, their eyes and their posture do most of the acting. Edmond Cofie’s performance as a hardened crime boss with a heart of gold is quite nuanced and well done. I hope to see much more of his work in the years to come. Jordan Monaghan is also amazing in her portrayal of a woman who is lost in the past and fearful of the future.
The most disappointing moments of this film come in the first four minutes. The opening is brazenly lifted from the opening of Blade Runner 2049. The layout and purpose of the title card, the music, and the opening shots of the landscape all seem to have been exact copies of Denis Villenevue’s film.
The Wanting Mare is a film that is worth watching, either at Chattanooga or wherever you may find it. The visual style is well done if not somewhat derivative. The actors manage to say a lot without saying much. The world and rules are solidly constructed. The strikes against The Wanting Mare are that the film’s second and third acts fail to live up to the promise of the first and the story becomes intentionally repetitive in the worst possible way.
The Wanting Mare is currently playing at the online digital version of Chattanooga Film Festival. The festival is only open to U.S. residents, so if you'd like to attend, get your badges at chattfilmfest.org/badges. The festival will be ongoing from now through May 24th.
By Mark Gonzales
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