The beautiful Alaskan wilderness is the literal backdrop in Wildlike, while also offering an overt metaphor for a wayward teen seeking solace and stability.
When sent off by her dysfunctional mom to live with her far more dangerous uncle, the situation goes from bad to worse for 14-year-old Mackenzie. Played with an admirable mix of vulnerability and bravery by Ella Purnell, Mackenzie’s father has passed, and now her mother has passed her on to her molesting uncle.
So naturally, Mackenzie runs. And her headstrong path takes her right smack into the way of Rene, a man better equipped than anyone in Mackenzie’s life to offer her guidance and protection. Bruce Greenwood plays this calming hiker, a widower traveling solo through the wilderness, with a declarative voice and gentle eyes. It’s something the journeyman actor has done time and time again, but one he is well-suited to do.
In this first feature film by Frank Hall Green, which he also wrote, Mackenzie’s journey remains grounded and intimate; he delicately, effectively handles her present pain while staying restrained during her journey. Green never looks for one moment to triumphantly declare that Mackenzie has turned the corner; instead, it’s a constant push-and-pull between the headstrong and untrustworthy teen and the concerned father figure.
It’s not about the destination though, as always; it’s the journey. The two develop a strong bond, though not without some harrowing moments; an encounter with a bear, after Rene warns about encountering bears). While thatis physically threatening, there is also an emotionally defenseless encounter that would be awkward if it wasn’t spurred by grief and abuse.
Green smartly oscillates his camera from wide scenic shots of the pair navigating a green landscape to close ups of his travelers. Rene may be crossing familiar physical terrain, but both he and Mackenzie struggle to assume their newfound roles that neither expected but both seem to need.
Wildlike does well to avoid melodramatic pitfalls; Mackenzie quickly develops to be far more than a one note rebellious teen, a credit to both Green’s writing and Purnell’s performance. Her quest is wrenching yet beautiful, simple yet earnest. However familiar and predictable, Wildlike is worthy watch led by two strong leads and a gorgeous setting.