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Wild, written and directed by Nicolette Krebitz, is a German drama that completely wastes an intriguing premise, because of awful execution.
Ania (Lilith Stangenberg) is a young woman stuck in the trappings of day-to-day existence. She’s quiet and introverted, has a mundane, thankless job and a strained relationship with her family. One day she sees a stray wolf in a park on her way to work and is profoundly affected by the experience. As her newly found obsession with wolves deepens, Ania begins to abandon the ways of civilization and instead embraces a more primal way of life.
This is a great premise for a compelling, provocative drama. The opening does a good job of setting up Ania’s frustration with her dull, muted everyday life. Her connection with the wolf makes her feel more alive than anything else, but also pushes her to dangerous, dark extremes – a good movie would build that transition gradually, allowing the audience to develop a sense of understanding and maybe even sympathy for the character.
Wild flat out fails to do so, as Ania begins acting strangely almost immediately. She goes out on her balcony to howl at the sky the same day she saw the wolf and we see her soon after licking blood from her hands from the steaks she bought to try and feed it. There’s absolutely no sense of escalation to her behavior – she’s dangerously obsessed right with wolves right from the start.
That puts up a barrier between the character and the audience that the movie never manages to resolve. It makes it impossible to care about Ania – she just comes across as unstable and crazy, with little to no redeeming qualities. It also makes the movie’s continuous attempts to shock you completely ineffective. When everything Ania does is crazy, the shock value doesn’t go up, it goes down. You just started to get used to it and it ends up being quite numbing and boring.
Imagine if Walter White had been running around poisoning children and ordering hits on people in the very first season – Breaking Bad would have probably been cancelled pretty quickly. He may be a dangerously unsympathetic character, but the show painstakingly developed him as such over time. We see his humanity slowly being chipped away and that makes him both complex and interesting. Even Frank Underwood, who literally smothers a puppy in the opening scene of the pilot of House of Cards, has layers to his character that make him a fully realized, three-dimensional human being. His ambitions and frustrations, at least the start of the show, were something you could understand, even if his methods were often questionable or even downright contemptuous.
Wild has the makings of the right idea when it comes to fleshing out Ania’s motivations, but spends most of its runtime making her wholly unsympathetic. The result is neither compelling, shocking, thought-provoking or funny, unintentionally or otherwise. It’s just a deeply unpleasant and pointless viewing experience that fails to do much of anything.