Chattanooga Film Festival 2020
The Wanting Mare raises the bar for the kind of special effects possible in an independent production. Filmed over five years, a small team of ten managed to keep the production costs light, filling in over 650 VFX shots through their own money and fundraisers alone. The result is the magnificently rendered, almost completely digital city of Whithren: replete with grand towers looming over its subjects, cities ablaze in light, and night-time ships covered in dust and fog. A stunning and inspirational achievement, it’s only a shame this world isn’t explored in any meaningful way.
Moira (Jordan Monaghan) is born in the city, where horses run free across its outskirts. Once a year, these horses are trapped and sent to the southern city of Levithen, a place caught in constant winter. Like in any good myth, the girl’s mother dies in childbirth, leaving her to fend for herself. Yet somehow this dream of travelling to this foreign city — where ship tickets are rare — is kept alive, passing through the generations in this epically conceived fantasy tale.
Science-fiction need not be full of grand gestures or fast-paced action, but it can also be contemplative and philosophical. The Wanting Mare creates a stagnant, mostly empty world filled with desire; for an imagined past, and a possible future. But we never make it towards the past or the future, The Wanting Mare repeating two similar stories of man versus woman with mythical tones but little psychological depth.
Digital effects maestro slash debut director Nicholas Ashe Bateman has poured his heart and soul into the project, which is one of many planned in the fictional world of Anmaere (with future installments in the conception stage). And in terms of its effects, The Wanting Mare feels — bar crowd scenes or an explosion here or there — on par with any big studio production. But what it lacks is a satisfying angle into this world, prioritizing feelings and emotions over any real sense of discovery. While it’s unfair to expect the film to copy big-budget science-fiction such as Oblivion or Elysium, it doesn’t fully commit to the Andrei Tarkovsky or Alexei German slow cinema approach either — enveloping us into a particular mood or tone through slow camerawork and the creation of interesting textures. Another large reason I was taken out of the film was its score — heavy on swelling strings to indicate heavy emotions — and its amateur acting; aping the emotions of Hollywood while still obscuring the film’s central quest.
I’m not surprised Shane Carruth — a God among DIY directors — is listed as an executive producer. Those who enjoy his films — filled with obtuse plot developments, characters talking to each other rather than the audience, and swelling music pregnant with heavy meaning — will find a lot to enjoy here. Nonetheless, as someone who found Upstream Colour completely incomprehensible and totally unenjoyable, I am probably the wrong target audience for this film. That said, I eagerly await any potential future installments set within this world — hopefully with a budget that allows us to find a more satisfying hook into the story.
The Chattanooga Film Festival takes place online via 22nd – 25th May. Learn more via the website!