Friday, May 22, 2020

CFF ’20: The Wanting Mare

There is a long tradition of horse fantasies, but the world of Anmaere is nothing like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar novels. It is more of a dystopia, particularly the city of Whithren, whose closest Earthly cousin could be Valletta (sadly for Malta). The city combines elements of the Medieval and post-industrial periods, but it is the surrounding coastland and moors that are important, because that is where the wild horses are wrangled. Those beasts are worth a great deal of money, but the opportunity they represent is even more valuable in director-screenwriter Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s The Wanting Mare, executive-produced by Shane Carruth, which screens (virtually) as part of the (online) 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival.

Anmaere is our world, but not. Moira is of Anmaere, but it is not her world either. She grew up as an orphan, without anyone to explain the inherited nightmares passed on down to her from her biological mother and her grandmother before her. Since she has always felt a stranger in her own land, she is determined to somehow secure passage on the annual steamer ship transporting Whithren’s yearly horse exports to the more temperate and economically developed city of Levithen.

When Moira stumbles across Lawrence, a wounded young thug, she believes she may have found someone who can secure her passage to the West. However, instead of a ticket, he delivers into her hands a foundling, who will play a significant role in the second years-later half of the film.

Wanting Mare spans decades, but it is not exactly a plot-heavy film. Admittedly, Bateman struggles somewhat in his maiden feature outing as a story-teller, but he has a remarkable talent as a world-builder. Whithren of Anmaere is one of the few movie dystopias that actually feels like a real place you could walk around and explore. Bateman and his effects and design team pull off plenty of tricks to make locations around Baltimore, East Orange, and Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia look like an otherworldly realm of urban blight and ancient back alleys, while cinematographer David A. Ross makes it all shimmer ominously and evocatively.

Frankly, the style and heavy atmosphere of Wanting Mare largely overwhelms the younger thesps, but Josh Clark and Christine Kellogg-Darrin develop some smoldering chemistry together as the older Moira and Lawrence. Arguably, their bittersweet third act connection redeems the less-focused mid-section.

Visually, Wanting Mare is an arresting film, but the narrative leaves viewers wanting more. Still, considering how effectively Bateman transports us to this alternate-fantasy world, we would take the return trip. Recommended for cult films fans interested in new filmmaking talent, The Wanting Mare screens virtually (5/22-5/25) during this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival.