Austin Film Festival 2014
By Linc Leifeste | November 4, 2014
Director: Frank Hall Green
Writer: Frank Hall Green
Starring: Ella Purnell, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty, Nolan Gerard Funk
A poignant, pitch-perfect story of the devastating impact of sexual abuse and the healing power of nature, Wildlike movingly illustrates both the potential for evil in man and the redemptive possibilities of unexpected human connections. It quickly becomes apparent that something is not right after 14-year old Mackenzie (Ella Purnell), whose father has recently died, is shipped off to stay with her uncle (Brian Geraghty) in Juneau, Alaska by her mother, who is entering rehab. The relationship is obviously strained and while her uncle seems eager to connect, there is something slightly offputting in his behavior. That uncomfortable feeling takes a turn for the “hard to watch” as we witness him climb into bed with Mackenzie one night.
Soon after, Mackenzie uses an outing to visit a glacier as an opportunity to flee but finds herself wandering around the cold, wet town, alone and broke with nowhere to turn for help. After sneaking into what she thinks is a vacant hotel room, she soon finds herself hiding under the bed, only to be discovered by the room’s occupant, Rene Bartlett (Bruce Greenwood). She flees but soon runs into him again in the hotel restaurant and their relationship slowly begins to develop, with both equally wary of the other. Mackenzie is in need of help but her life experience has led her to believe that help is bound to come with a price tag.
Rene has plans to do a solo hike across the Denali National Park and, despite his best efforts to prevent it, Mackenzie cunningly finds a way to interject herself into those travel plans. The pair’s solitary, meditative travels across the breathtakingly beautiful Alaska country are a slowly paced joy to behold, with Rene’s stoic reserve slowly giving way to heartfelt concern as he puts together the pieces of Mackenzie’s sad back story. And Mackenzie finds herself exposed to something completely foreign to her, a man who is good, decent and trustworthy. There’s an encounter with a bear and with a set of fellow travelers but the real story here is the unlikely but completely believable father-daughter bond that forms between the two weary, heartbroken travelers.
As the two near the end of their journey, the looming question is what will happen next. Mackenzie’s uncle is eagerly pursuing her, she’s going to need help to escape his clutches and make it back to Seattle, and what will Rene’s role, if any, be in her future. A brilliant character study featuring two of the best performances I saw at the Austin Film Festival from Greenwood and Purnell, I found myself fully emotionally invested in how Mackenzie’s story played out.
Director/writer Frank Hall Green shows a skillful hand in telling such a painfully delicate story with sensitivity and depth of feeling, ultimately providing no easy answers to explain the ways of men. Masterfully shot on film by cinematographer Hilary Spera, the epic majesty and rugged beauty of Denali are captured in all their glory, providing a brilliant backdrop to the small-scale but equally epic emotional journey the film’s protagonists find themselves on.