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MOVIES: Wildland - Review

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Wildland is a mean, hostile new Danish thriller that instantly brings to mind not just everyone’s favourite scandi-noir crime shows of the mid 2010s but of the terrific Australian film Animal Kingdom, that starred Ben Mendelsohn and gave us an insight into the life of a crime syndicate family that operated on the fringes of society. Who knows… maybe Wildland might even get its own show too? Sidse Babett Knudsen is certainly a more than powerful lead, as the matriarch as a family that sticks together no matter the cost.

Knudsen’s Bodil adopts Ida, a young, vulnerable Sandra Guldberg Kampp, and takes her under her wing where she’s forced to live with three violent, hyper-masculine older cousins who spend their mornings playing Call of Duty and their evenings at nightclubs and collecting money for the family. A favourite technique of their family to raise cash is to offer children of their targets lifts home from school in a rather chilling series of events – that led to them telling the child it was the family who picked them up. The parents know how easy it is for them to get their children. They know that the family knows where they live. And they take Ida along for the ride with them – a teenage girl with an injured arm looking for anywhere to belong.

However; it’s clear that Ida does not want to stay. She’s too afraid to talk with her support staff even once the police are involved, and she has to make a choice between family loyalty or snitching on her cousins after a tragic event puts them at odds. It’s a fascinating dilemma and director Jeanette Nordahl really does a good job at capturing multiple characters’ vulnerabilities – Carla Phillip Roder aces plenty of screentime, whilst demonstrating their strengths. Every moment is tense, keeping you on edge with a haunting score and an ending that isn’t afraid to be bold and fearless – this takes the concept of family loyalty and togetherness and pushes it to the extreme, utilising Nordahl’s experience as a second-unit director on the hit show Borgen.

The film is tightly paced and only runs for a lean ninety minutes. It signifies Nordahl as an instantly ambitious director who’s not afraid to go to dark places, I do have a couple of problems with the ending scenes as I do kind of feel it ends rather suddenly and rather bluntly, and could have used an epilogue after the fact – and whilst it lacks the thrills of Animal Kingdom it feels like a more reigned in, less larger-than-life approach.

As a calling card to show what Jeanette Nordahl is capable of it’s a very impressive thriller that will keep you invested thanks to its uniquely riveting portrayal of the family dynamics at the core of the drama. I left the movie wanting to watch more of Sidse Babett Knudsen in this role, she makes the absolute most out of comparatively little screentime and always feels more scary, more terrifying and more threatening than any of her sons – who each get enough of their own identity to feel flawed and interesting humans – everyone in Wildland feels real and that’s what makes these circumstances all the more interesting. Rare has a coming of age story been this nihilistic.

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