'The Wanting Mare' is extravagantly uncontained science fiction, but ultimately an unfollowable ramble through unlimited consciousness that forgets audiences aren't connected to the continuity filmmakers create in their heads.
- 🐴 Proof that science fiction set dressings are attainable on any budget.
- 🐴 Unlocks spellbinding potential.
- 🐴 Nicholas Ashe Bateman makes a statement.
- 🐴 I'm still not sure what that statement is.
- 🐴 Floats through a story that's never tied down.
- 🐴 Plots a universe but doesn't know how to start.
Out of The Wanting Mare sprouts a conversation about intent versus execution. Originality, ambition, and the ability to translate what churns through one’s mind into a digestible cinematic banquet. Nowhere throughout the following paragraphs will there be a questioning of Nicholas Ashe Bateman as a visual stylist or conceptual maverick. Conversely, when a film’s IMDb synopsis reads like your screener linked to an incorrect video file, red flags raise like Mario’s just completed another side-scrolling level. Alongside cerebral science-fiction works of independent do-it-yourself-ed-ness, The Wanting Mare stands shoulder’s pressed to recent titles like Come True and Perfect - but what does that mean for observing parties?
Well, how many edibles have you stashed away for a humid, dystopian day?
From Bateman’s imagination bursts a Tolkien-influenced fantasy world dubbed Anmaere. We descend upon Whithren, where wild horses represent the temperature-scorched city’s most valuable export. Once a year, these stallions and mares are shipped across the sea to Levithen’s frozen shores. Those civilians of Whithren with much-valued tickets are permitted access to the shipment vessel and an escape from their heatstroke community. One such vagabond is Moira (Jordan Monaghan), who stumbles upon a wounded Lawrence (Nicholas Ashe Bateman), and then finds a baby instead of escaping Withren, setting off a chain of events that lasts decades within the sweltering metropolis borders.
As predominantly digitized, mesmerizingly landscaped poetry in motion, Bateman transports us into the crumbled, sweat-drenched world of Whithren that lives within his creative lobes. Moira’s storyline snakes through days, years, generations that pass within the blink of an eye as youth begets seniority, grains of sand rushing through an hourglass. There are no attentive cues, spoken or signaled, that usher narrative passings between subsets of characters continuing the same story of isolation, entrapment, and poverty-stricken romances. Everything happens in indecipherable rhythm, lyrically and dizzyingly, which is where my diversions into frustrations begin.
The Wanting Mare invests wholly in visual storytelling since Bateman views Moira’s focal-at-first quest for a golden passage ticket as a stepping stone. Bateman prays you’ll throw yourself into Anmaere’s future-barbaric richness without establishing said richness. All the synopsis hyper-details about horse trades and territorial advantages are underserved by a narrative that’s more befitting a filmmaker’s demo reel. I’m not a critic who demands rigid outlines, but The Wanting Mare wavers almost unconsciously through events that are immeasurable in the context of Bateman’s mind, and yet inconsequential in practice because we’re never adequately indoctrinated into the societal fortitude, the conflict intensity, or the realism of Anmaere. We’re plopped chapters into an ongoing story, only aided by a whimpering voiceover that whispers of curses and running free and ethereal escapes; a boggy tease of the “first, intimate chapter in a long line of films about the people, places, and legends of Anmaere.”
Bateman’s greatest folly is assuming we’ll store the same enthusiasm for Anmaere that’s built over the six-plus years his project gestated. The problem is, Anmaere lacks an entry point. A girl? An inexplicable curse that dissolves corpses? Another girl? A ticket? Gangbangers, boats, and solo karaoke? Films shouldn’t require research to fill in blanks, and yet, The Wanting Mare succumbs to the float-away headiness of a script that’s only pictures, scant of connection beyond what those behind-the-scenes choose not to convey.
That’s the shame because Bateman’s passionate expressionism shot predominantly on blue-screen backdrops is breathtaking to behold from a design level. Legend states that Bateman became more adept at VFX with practice and built Anmaere’s painstakingly whimsical tarnished details from scratch, which is a massive accomplishment given the at-times epic scope on screen. Whithren’s damp warehouse raves under greenish hues or Moira’s music-video romantic montages are brushed by an artist with natural talents in physical worldbuilding. If you're sucked into the film’s trance - strings of coastal porch lights in the background, grand guardian statues, industrial dilapidation - maybe the breakneck introduction of new faces or “you have to feel the movie to understand its importance” logic will hold. For me? I could never release myself to an alternate dimension where time, continuity, and thematic appeal escape with all the protected wildlife that you rarely glimpse.
Without a doubt, The Wanting Mare is a filmmaker’s bounty of impressive technical feats that should assure Nicholas Ashe Bateman quite the everlasting Hollywood career. Anmaere buries mysteries between tundras and tropics, none of which reveal themselves with distinction throughout Moira’s journey. Sensations of love and loss and natural, salt-of-the-earth experiences exist, but what’s lost is any comprehensive glue sticking structural building blocks in ascertainable places. Bateman is rebellious in his dialogue-minimal design but not proficient in sustaining a story that otherwise washes babies ashore, glances over ash-to-ash illness, and dreams of being a franchise starter without a place to start. Anmaere is begging us to return, but even after ninety minutes, I’m still searching for a reason why?
The Wanting Mare will be available to stream February 5th, 2021.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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