The Wanting Mare Review
The constant evolution of VFX means the construction of entirely new cinematic worlds is no longer something only achievable by big studios, especially when you have a creative whizz like debut writer-director Nicholas Ashe Bateman overseeing the project. Years spent providing visual effects on films like Free Solo, Wendy and David Lowery’s The Green Knight have put him in a position to bring his own vision to life, creating a photorealistic fantasy world on a shoe-string budget. Given the cryptic-like nature of the film, it should come as no surprise that Primer and Upstream Colour director Shane Carruth serves as executive producer, whose two indie features also made the most out of limited resources.
Bateman’s debut feature comes direct from his own Maere Studios, utilising over 500 visual effect shots to build the world of Anmaere, which in reality was mostly put together inside the blank canvas of a mid-sized New Jersey warehouse. The intro tells us that wild horses roaming the moorlands are a precious commodity captured and exported across the sea. Finding a ticket for the trade route is something everyone living in and around the city of Whithren hopes to secure so they can escape the heavy fog and sweltering temperatures.
The dreamlike visuals of The Wanting Mare are appropriate for a loose plot that spans 35 years, starting with the mother of a newborn called Moira (Jordan Monaghan is soon introduced as the adult incarnation of the child) telling her infant she will inherit a secret dream about a magical old world that will repeat itself each night. Moira grows up determined to leave the city and head across the sea to Levithen and enlists the help of a young criminal called Lawrence (the young version played by director Bateman).
After leaping forward 34 years we are introduced to gang leader Hadeon (Edmond Cofie) and Eirah (Yasamin Keshtkar), whose relationship takes centre stage in the second half of the film, with the precious tickets still playing a pivotal role. Bateman’s strength is clearly in the design and architectural department, constructing a dense looking landscape that feels and looks believable. Budgetary restrictions obviously limit the amount of detail that can be shown onscreen, but DP David A. Ross compensates with crisp use of light and shadow reminiscent of the style seen in the work of Portuguese director Pedro Costa.
While the visuals are strong, the writing is less so, and the vagueness of both the characters and the threads that string them together is what ultimately lessens the film’s impact. Dialogue is minimal, which is not a problem in itself, and perhaps the intention was to inform the characters with their dark, dystopian surroundings. But even when taking that into account, the mythology of Anmaere also remains a mystery, with little explanation given about its history or harsh environment, or how Moira’s repetitive dream relates to anything connected to it. The film searches for something that isn’t obviously apparent, with the end result feeling muted and distant. More rewards may be found on repeat viewings and although there isn’t enough meat on the bone to capitalise on the eye-catching digital world-building, it does feel like the work of a director who is only just getting started.
The Wanting Mare debuts at the Chattanooga Film Festival this weekend and is open to North American residents only. The festival runs between May 22-25 and badges can be purchased here.