Wander Darkly, 2020.
Written and Directed by Tara Miele.
Starring Diego Luna, Sienna Miller, Tory Kittles, Brett Rice, Vanessa Bayer, Aimee Carrero, and Beth Grant.
New parents Adrienne and Matteo are forced to reckon with trauma amidst their troubled relationship. They must revisit the memories of their past and unravel haunting truths in order to face their uncertain future.
There are points awarded for ambition in writer/director Tara Miele’s Wander Darkly, a trippy piece exploring trauma and grief presumably from the afterlife or some state of existential limbo following a nasty car accident that leaves the already frayed lovebirds Matteo and Adrienne (Diego Luna and Sienna Miller respectively) piecing together and recontextualizing old memories to process a greater truth and able to move on what the future. Part of the journey is figuring out whether they are ghosts, unconsciously dreaming, having psychological reactions (Adrienne had a traumatic experience giving birth that might still be affecting her), or spiritual guides for one another. In that respect, the film is clever, especially given that there is a clear thematic direction.
However, I have to do something I generally don’t like doing when writing reviews; admitting that mostly Wander Darkly just reminded me of other and often better movies that I feel compelled to mention not to drop cinema knowledge, but to express just how many ideas feel jammed into one narrative. This movie starts off like the love child between Jacob’s Ladder and Final Destination before morphing into Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and a thriller take on A Ghost Story all with the presentation of a Charlie Kaufman story and little of the emotional arrest.
As mentioned, Matteo and Adrienne are going through a rough patch; there are financial concerns, they are drifting apart romantically, accusations of infidelity, and the babysitter which is actually just Adrienne’s parents and the only source of assistance is being pushed away. Nevertheless, Matteo pressures Adrienne to go for a fun night out which results in more arguing and a fatal car accident.
Wisely, Tara Miele doesn’t waste any time getting to the high concept mind games as the car accident occurs about seven minutes in. From there, we are with Adrienne who seems to be having some sort of out of body experience interacting with the past, present, and in some cases altered futures. She also can’t die as she tests running into traffic. Confused about what the hell is going on, she does encounter Matteo who insists they are indeed alive and that he does not abandon their daughter in the future (one vision places Adrienne observing a teenage version of their daughter sobbing trying to understand why her father left). Adrienne is also using this inexplicable phenomenon as an opportunity to question everything she knows about her relationship with Matteo on whether or not he was controlling, faithful, loving, and some really out there thoughts like if they even really had a daughter. These sequences of the couple reliving past key moments of their lives are also interwoven together with stylistic editing that both further accomplishes Wander Darkly as a hypnotic experience and masks some of the film’s flaws.
Wander Darkly is not that interested in dissecting these characters, which somewhat hurts the relationship analysis of it all, choosing to live or die based on sensory filmmaking and bold ideas. Occasionally, the film seems to be throwing everything at the wall in hopes that something will stick, which can also make for a disorienting experience although it still wouldn’t be accurate to say the story is indecipherable. It’s very clear, and if anything, suffers because there are only one of two ways the grand reveal can go.
Despite that muddled characterization and sensation that the film genuinely has no idea what it wants to do for 80 minutes aside from constant misdirection away from what’s really going on, the performances from Diego Luna and Sienna Miller are wired into the heavy themes. Even with a thinly sketched relationship, they make the most of this message on the importance of finding closure during the grieving process. It’s also hard to dislike an R-rated sci-fi adult drama with splashes of mystery and eroticism that is determined to throw one’s brain for a loop. Just expect every movie that comes to mind while watching Wander Darkly to have executed the ideas better.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com