The Wonder Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
An incredibly powerful period piece, in which rational facts collide against fanatical faith. Florence Pugh has never been better!
Genre: Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Cast: Florence Pugh, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Tom Burke, Niamh Algar, Elaine Cassidy, David Wilmot, Ruth Bradley, Josie Walker, Toby Jones & Ciarán Hinds.
Run Time: 109 min.
US Release: 02 November 2022
UK Release: 04 November 2022
German Release: 16 November 2022
This Netflix-produced, melodramatic period piece, set in Ireland after the “Great Famine”, was a total surprise! Not just because it was a production of the streaming giant, which has been releasing mediocre, to complete garbage as of late. Mainly, due to the reason that it was put pretty much straight to the platform, with only a minimal limited release set in five countries, a week before release on Netlfix itself. It is a story that is definitely worth a watch, even if it would have been more gratifying to experience it on a big screen!
Set in 1862, English nurse Lib Wright is brought to a tiny Irish village from the Midlands, tasked to observe a young girl, who is said to have survived miraculously without food for months. Is the village harbouring a saint or are there more sinister motives at work?
An adaptation of the 2016 novel of the same name, by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue, The Wonder depicts two confronting sides, with similar backgrounds. Set in the aftermaths of the Crimean War plus the Great Famine in Ireland, these tragic historic events cast a shadow over the characters, leaving psychological scars. What is interesting, is the eerie, depressing atmosphere that surrounds the narrative. Donoghue worked with the director on the screenplay adaptation of her book.
The plot's pacing might just be the movie's biggest issue. It is merely 109 minutes long, though feels longer, moving at a snail's pace. I don’t mind a slow burn, but this was tough! Then there was the odd decision, to open with a narrator on a film set. It’s a storytelling device, meant to reinforce the plot's subject, however, rather than being immersed into the 19th-century setting, I was pulled out, feeling rather conscious about the fact that I was watching a flick, taking me a while to settle back into the narrative.
As stated before, the premise is set after two tragic historic events, however, far more factors play into the shaping of stories between the two colliding sides. This is something that the director does brilliantly, by slowly unpacking revelations creating more friction between English Nightingale Nurse Lib and Anna’s religiously devout family. The narrative also examines the power of the belief system, including the devastating effect that fictional tales can have. Anna’s life has been dictated by stories, though it is not until Lib enters her life that she is given the option to leave or stay.
The dialogue is well-elaborated, breaking the fourth wall! The emotional spectrum of pain, grief, as well as despair, is implemented into the conversations, with English and Irish dialects being prominent.
Florence Pugh is fantastic, proving why she is currently one of the best actresses in the business. She was cast as the Nightingale Nurse Elizabeth “Lib” Wright, the main character, who is suffering from a tragic loss herself. Tasked to observe a young girl who is supposedly fasting for four months, Lib is constantly confronted by the board, for being a woman. Pugh manages to convey Lib’s painful desperation believably, as well as being credible when motherly feelings surface. Unfortunately, the romance set up between her and Tom Burke’s persona William Byrne feels forcefully tacked on.
Kíla Lord Cassidy plays Anna, the girl who supposedly survived months without eating. Anna herself became somewhat of a small celebrity, as believers of this holy miracle are drawn to the small town. The audience, however, doesn’t get to know the girl at first. As the plot progresses slowly, disclosures are made that flesh out Anna’s persona with motives, burdens plus responsibilities. Lord Cassidy impresses greatly with her performance, while her chemistry with Pugh is impeccable!
The board of The Watch, are delighted with all the attention Anna is bringing to the village and to that extent them. They are so blindsided by fame, that they become fanatical believers themselves, unwilling to listen to reason about the girl’s worsening conditions. Toby Jones is the town's physician, who is convinced that the girl will get better, as he is sure to have found a new medical breakthrough, he wants to announce.
The cinematography uses a grainy filter, with desaturated colours that set the complete tone of the film. The desperation of the setting is reflected by the grey/brownish grading. Technically, the steady camera work is relevant to the drama, while also creating an uncomfortably disturbing background atmosphere. Scenes are left to play out without cutting away, which can sometimes be very slow.
Costume and Wardrobe are well designed, after the time period this plays in, suiting to the characters’ origins. The set design looks realistic, feeling damp from the coldish, moist climate of the small rural village. The makeup is perfectly applied, especially when depicting the worsening condition of Anna. Other than that, no real specific effects are used.
The music by Matthew Herbert, is very subtle, nearly non-existent, though when it creeps up, is powerfully eerie.
Verdict: This adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel; for which she wrote the screenplay together with director Sebastián Lelio, made some interesting choices to an already intriguing premise. Some worked others did not… For one, the inclusion to start with a narration on a movie set, which breaks the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience, did pull one out of the experience immediately. Then there is the pacing, which can be pretty tough at times, as it is moving excruciatingly slow. That said, the way it pits human faith with rational facts, is impressive! Florence Pugh is truly magnificent in the main role, selling her emotional performances, as is newcomer Kíla Lord Cassidy, who has brilliant chemistry with Pugh. The decision to slowly unpack Anna’s character, with each new scene, is also very effective. The cinematography is great, the sets plus costumes look real and the music is haunting. The Wonder is an unusual period piece, deserving of a 7.5 out of 10.
Have you seen this Netflix production yet? If not give it a try, it is worth it! Let me know what you thought & as always, thank you very much for reading!