Wilderness is a film of two halves, with two distinct moods. The first twenty minutes or so are lyrical, the cinematic equivalent of poetry. Yet this sensuous parade of evocative, idyllic images is later countered by second and third acts which are both wordier and more disillusioned.
The early music-video quality of cross-cut sequences with disparate audio layered on as voice over is an instantly arresting decision, and a sound one given that Davenport and Barnes’ chemistry is largely physical. The voice over amplifies Fox’s assertion of the deep connection between his protagonists, almost suggesting that they’re communicating telepathically.
Barnes’ and Davenport’s performances are extremely expressive when silent, yet Wilderness suffers once they open their mouths – albeit through no fault of theirs. The dialogue can be pretty wooden and it’s unclear whether the familiar language of on-screen lovers is knowingly and ironically trite or just poorly scripted. Lines recur like earworms, and sadly there’s a cost to Wilderness’ deliciously crisp natural ambient soundscape – an awful lot of clunky ADR.
Alice and John convince as a new couple but not so much as one in the throes of a relationship-altering crisis. Still, as the harsher notes in Wilderness approach the claustrophobic pain of Blue Valentine, Fox does capture the cruel words and subsequent regrets of coupledom.
The 1960s production design is great, and adds a little more edge than a similarly plotted film would have if set in the present day. With its casual positing of an interracial couple, Wilderness addresses important questions about masculinity and race, but never allows these “issues” to supersede the narrow narrative focus.
Its montages and vignettes may only add up to a slight story, but Wilderness is staggeringly insightful on love and relationships. It’s just a shame that these life lessons often feel shoehorned in.
CAST: Katharine Davenport, James Barnes, Sebastian Badarau, Bean Downes
DIRECTOR: Justin Doherty
WRITER: Neil Fox
SYNOPSIS: John is a touring jazz musician who has never met a woman like Alice. Their love is urgent and physical and they have made heady declarations of their devotion to each other. Over the course of a romantic weekend getaway they come into contact with strangers and friends and the bubble threatens to burst.