Directed by Frank Hall Green Starring Ella Purnell, Brian Geraghty & Bruce Greenwood
Film review by Monica Jowett
A hike through the Alaskan countryside has a healing nature for a teenager and older man who are both recovering from emotional loss in this low-budget drama Wildlike. A quiet and sensitive take on an uncomfortable subject alongside some powerful performances from the two leads makes this film engaging and heartfelt without verging on the melodramatic.
Young teenager Mackenzie (Ella Purnell) goes to stay with her uncle (Brian Geraghty) in Juneau Alaska after her father has recently died and mother has been put into treatment. When the relationship between them turns awry, she runs away into the Alaskan countryside and attempts to get back to Seattle alone. Feeling lost, she tags along with a backpacker, a recently widowed man Rene Bartlett (Bruce Greenwood) who takes the young Mackenzie under his wing and together they find solace in the Alaskan wilderness and find their way back to Seattle. Writer and director Frank Hall Green produces great chemistry between the two leads and uses the Alaskan landscape as character in itself.
Wildlike is careful in its depiction of the abuse the uncle shows Mackenzie, it is subtle but shows enough for us to know why she would run away. Too much or too little reference to the abuse would make the film seem indifferent to its own subject matter. The way it is dealt with leads the tone for the movie, as Mackenzie struggles to open up to her new friend and Bart’s careful to not interfere unless he has to for Mackenzie’s protection.
The characters complement each other well. Mackenzie and Bart form a father-daughter relationship they both are secretly coveting for as they have both recently suffered a loss, though the duo is not played for the dramatic emotion and Green develops the relationship slowly throughout the film so we can see it genuinely grow, whilst using the backdrop of Alaska as a healing influence for them both. The quiet introverted personalities of the two may take a while to shed, but because of the way the two of them bond, the development feels honest.
As it pushes to an emotional outbreak in the third act which would be a misstep for a low-key drama, Green avoids this to end on a positive, hopeful note for Mackenzie and her new friend Bart. Taking the subject matter seriously, Wildlike is a refreshing take and uses the unconventional central pairing to its advantage to create an independent hiking film that doesn’t feel too Hollywood.