Wanting More (Or Anything, Really): Our Review of ‘The Wanting Mare’

Wanting More (Or Anything, Really): Our Review of ‘The Wanting Mare’

“Just north of the city of Whithren, hidden in the heat, wild horses run along the coast. Once a year, they are trapped and exported to the southern tip of Levithen, to a city in constant winter. There are tickets for passage aboard this yearly transport ship but they are a rare commodity.”

So states the text that opens Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s The Wanting Mare, plunging us into a meticulously constructed fantasy world with the same self-seriousness of an episode of Game of Thrones. If you’re into this kind of thing, then you might be taken by the committed level of world-building on display; if not, well… good luck.

After a cryptic scene with a mother whispering barely audible portents to her newborn baby, we’re transported to the strange post-apocalyptic fantasy world of Whithren, a typical amalgamation of past, present and future elements that’s generally the go-to for filmmakers looking to indicate an “out-of-time” quality. We then meet Moira (Jordan Monaghan), a waifish young woman who has retreated from the dirty industrial city to the perilous cliffs nearby, hiding out in a bombed-out factory while she dreams of an escape. Accompanied by a soundtrack of incessant and overly-somber strings, when she’s not engaging in some late-night karaoke of random (also somber) pop ballads, you may also dream of an early escape from all this immediate heavy-handedness.

But Moira may just get her wish in the form of Lawrence (played by the writer-director himself), a dreamy young man who wanders into her abode sporting a gun and a wound in need of medical attention. Moira obliges and, despite his criminal demeanour, allows him to stick around when she suspects he can attain one of these hallowed tickets for the boat. It doesn’t take long for these two to fall madly in love, since they’re both attractive and it allows for another opportunity to bombard our eardrums with more strings (slightly less somber this time) over their passionate factory-floor love-making, eventually putting them at odds with Lawrence’s initial reason for being here when his criminal crew comes around.

This is just the first part of a triptych, with the film shifting time and space to follow older and younger versions of our two lovers, forming a literal representation of the recurring dream that Moira and everyone in her lineage is saddled with having. But with Bateman giving us little to no grasp on his story or characters in the opening sequence, it’s hard to be invested enough to follow this through line. The “Wanting Mare” of the title is supposed to be the women of Whithren, stuck in a barren wasteland and saddled with unwanted responsibilities, as they pass on their love and hopes through generations. But the film seems too preoccupied with its visual design to really engage with this central thesis.

A special effects designer and supervisor by trade (he worked on Benh Zeitlin’s Wendy and David Lowery’s hotly-anticipated The Green Knight), Bateman takes meticulous care in visualizing Whithren and its surroundings, with the majority of the film being shot artificially on soundstages. Yet it all goes towards an experience that is disappointingly cold and lifeless, no matter how much emotional music swells throughout. For a movie that’s supposed to be about the enduring strength of the human spirit, it’s unfortunate that the people on screen are ultimately just part of the art direction.

As someone who finds the ethereal wanderings of Terrence Malick excruciatingly dull and pretentious, I fully realize that I just might not be the audience for this particular kind of experience. Maybe Bateman is the next big visual stylist on the cinematic landscape, with The Wanting Mare acting as a perfect calling-card for bigger opportunities. For me, I think I’ll just stick with my own nonsensical dreams.

This post was written by
After his childhood dream of playing for the Mighty Ducks fell through, Mark turned his focus to the glitz and glamour of the movies. He's covered the extensive Toronto film scene for online outlets and is a filmmaker himself, currently putting the final touches on a low-budget (okay, no-budget) short film to be released in the near future. You can also find him behind the counter as product manager of Toronto's venerable film institution, Bay Street Video.
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