Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Directed by: #KellyNeedleman
Written by: #KellyNeedleman
Wilderness Quest is a gripping five-minute horror/suspense thriller, but it never quite hits the mark.
A message after the final credits claims that Wilderness Quest shines a light on the connection between social anxiety and bullying.
It’s not so much that director Kelly Needleman fails to make this message clear – Shamus (Elijah Pinkham) literally spells out a need to overcome his anxiety in his journal and Cooper (Brian Whiteley) is more of a one-dimensional cartoon bully than a real person. The problem is that Wilderness Quest isn’t subtle enough to make you feel its message.
The premise is an uncomfortable mash-up of the Hunger Games and a group therapy retreat. Eight young adults camp together in the wilderness without food, water or technology under the guidance of Jessica (Jenifer Cote) and take turns to spend three days in the calm of nature completing their personal self-help quests.
It’s Shamus’s turn first. Camping out by a river, he tries to overcome his anxiety by meditating, shouting and keeping hydrated. His attempt to find calm is shaken up by Cooper’s meddling, and it soon becomes clear that he would’ve done better to stick to his meds. Alex (Jaia Foster) tries to help, but Shamus’s state of delirious anxiety and paranoia makes him a danger to himself and those around him.
In the film’s best scene, Needleman builds tension through a series of close-ups of Cooper creeping up on Shamus while Shamus hides in his tent with a furrowed brow. The scene is tense and the movement well-choreographed. At the final moment, the film cuts to a dreamy shot of the sun falling beneath the horizon.
As the film’s greatest success, Michael Vignola’s excellently tense and ominous music score masterfully evokes the horror/suspense genre. But it feels at odds with the rest of the piece.
Visually, Wilderness Quest lacks creative tact. Needleman borrows very little from classic horror tropes. He passes up the opportunity to transform this bright, sunlit forest into a sombre one, where wolves howl and footsteps in the bushes make your imagination go wild. Each image is too clean, and the camera is too stable.
The actors’ performances are watchable but lifeless at times. I’d venture to say that Jennifer Cote does a good job as casting director. Elijah Pinkham fits the mould as a pitiable long-haired loner type, Brian Whiteley is the right balance of handsome and slimy, and Jaia Foster is at ease playing the popular and kind-hearted Alex.
But my impression is that the actors are suffocated by an unoriginal script that doesn’t leave them enough room to showcase their talents. The narrative arc lumbers to a predictable final destination, the dialogue feels stunted, and there’s nothing new or exciting about the way Cooper bullies Shamus.
You may enjoy Wilderness Quest, but for my money it won’t capture your imagination.