Wildlike, an indie film directed and written by Frank Hall Green, was a thoughtful look into the experience of a teenage victim of sexual assault. It had good intentions, iffy acting, a slow rhythm and most of all–desperately needed a trigger warning.
Basic criticism aside, the film takes a new angle on displaying the point of view of a survivor of sexual assault. If it is one thing Mackenzie (Ella Purnell) is, it's a survivor. Moving in with her uncle (Brian Geraghty) in Alaska, Mackenzie's future is at first seemingly full of opportunity. She's introduced as a closed-off 14 year-old with thick rings of black eyeliner, and no desire to speak.
The first glimmer of happiness that crawls across her face is when her uncle shows her the room she will be living in. The thoughtfulness he puts into her arrival seems sweet, down to the package of brand new hangers in the closet, but it turns creepy pretty quickly. The angles and shots chosen to display the interactions between Mackenzie and her uncle have a sexual intonation about them. There are long glances and awkward conversation between the two characters, and ominous references about "the last time" she was around her uncle after her dad passed away. Basically you get the vibe something is not right. In the back of your mind you’ll be hoping that the weirdness about uncle just has to do with Geraghty’s poor performance, but soon you’ll realize that it just adds to the creepiness of his character.
Now, stuck with him for an extended period while her mom receives treatment for a condition—which we never get to know the details of—her uncle should be someone she can trust and rely on to take care of her, but instead he is her rapist.
The scenes where he crawls into her bed are extremely difficult to watch, but it takes you into the mindset of shame that Mackenzie develops, and presents an opportunity for understanding what exactly is at stake for someone who is attacked by a family member. You venture with her as she decides to make a run for it while out hiking with her uncle and his friend. Purnell’s performance is the best of the whole cast as her fear and nervousness permeates off the screen and into the heartbeat of the audience.
Even though she escapes, she is now a teenager with limited cash essentially living on the street. She is brave, terrified and doing her best to figure out what she should do. Sneaking into a hotel room seems like a good option, only she is caught by Bart (Bruce Greenwood), who we learn recently lost his wife and is embarking on a hiking trip in Alaska. Little does she know this stranger that she frightened and angered on their first encounter would end up to be her saving grace. She is persistent in her determination to get Bart to help her get to the ferry in Seattle, and eventually he gives in and allows her to tag along with him.
Throughout, Mackenzie interacts with primarily men, and the damage her uncle has done is apparent as you see her struggle with feeling that she is nothing but a sexual object. Twice we see Mackenzie offer her body up as almost a “thank you.” Bart, who totally freaks when she takes of her clothes and tries to kiss him in their tent, is the first person to make her feel like she is worth more than what she can offer with her body. Mackenzie is representative of thousands of sexual abuse victims. Her story is important because it shows the feelings and patterns that victims are often found in, and demonstrates how human compassion can make a giant difference in changing a life.
In this busy world, where people live such self-centered lives, it would be easy to write off a young girl who seems a bit sketchy. Bart and Mackenzie’s unlikely friendship demonstrates the need for the human spirit to be encouraged by supportive relationships. The great thing about Bart, is even though he is curious about Mackenzie’s backstory—not to mention a bit slow to warm up to the fact that she is essentially following him around—he never pressures her to open up about her situation. He is simply a companion who is there when no one else is.
Near the end, Bart learns the truth behind his mysterious hiking partner. By glancing at her text messages he pieces together that she is a frightened escapee rather than the rebellious teenage runaway it is likely he assumed her to be. Bart really steps in and takes the place of a caregiver when Mackenzie needs it most. The ending leaves much to be desired as Mackenzie is on a ferry to Seattle where she will safely meet Bart later. Meanwhile Bart is standing on the uncle’s doorstep, looking like he is either just going to walk away or kill him. I hope at the very least he punches him.
Wildlike is a little over 90-minutes, but feels like it’s 180. It is slow moving, but in the end, the important attention shined on the journey of healing after assault overshadows the below par acting and molasses-like pace.
And also, like for real, where was the trigger warning. It was more than necessary.
Wildlike is now playing in theaters and available to stream on-demand.
Images courtesy of Wildlike.
More from BUST.com: