DISCLAIMER: Spoilers ahead for Wander Darkly. Proceed with caution.
2020 is the year of the arthouse film, and Lionsgate’s Wander Darkly wholly fits that bill. Written and directed by Tara Miele, Wander Darkly tells the story of Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna), a couple whose fractured relationship dances on a knife’s edge when a tragic car accident unfolds.
Spoilers abound. Turn away if you must.
Adrienne dies in the hospital and finds herself wandering the corridors as a ghost. She watches her parents grieve over her body. The following day, Matteo catches her attempting to climb a metal fence that’s situated over a Los Angeles freeway. She stalwartly believes that she’s dead, yet Matteo can see her. He ushers her home and the pair dive headfirst into old memories. Why? To figure out where it all went wrong. The reason for their discontent. Matteo also uses it as a means to persuade Adrienne that she’s alive. In each memory, we see the couple provide exposition as said memories play out. Both seem to recall events differently.
Throughout these flashbacks, Adrienne views fragments of darkness, reminders that her time on this plane is transient. She even claims to spot Death himself, lingering in the shadows. The couple has a newborn child at home that Matteo is reticent to care for. Suddenly, Adrienne believes her objective is to convince Matteo that only he can raise their daughter. Otherwise, Adrienne’s parents will reel the child in. But Matteo isn’t convinced she’s dead.
And neither are we.
By the time the third act arrives, we see Matteo dissuade Adrienne from jumping off the roof of their home. A marriage proposal follows and on its heels a quaint outdoor ceremony. However, things aren’t as rosy as they appear.
The “Death” character Adrienne vehemently claims to see? He’s actually a hooded homeless man who helped her the night of the car accident. He reveals that Matteo died that night. Of course, Adrienne is utterly taken aback and she spirals.
Wander Darkly doesn’t waste time delving into the action — it only takes eight minutes for the flick to catalyze the plot with the car accident. For the most part, the film seamlessly weaves between memories and the “present” Inception-style. However, it’s later discovered that the “present” is really Adrienne grappling with her grief. Her sheer denial regarding Matteo’s death. The proposal and the ceremony were clearly figments of her fragile mental state.
Miller doles out the performance of her career. She’s sublime. Miller fully immerses herself into this world and proffers a gut-wrenching account of one woman’s turbulent journey with grief. Luna holds his own with a quieter, softer performance. Matteo acts like the salve to Adrienne’s wounds. He incessantly reminds Adrienne that she’s not dead and that everything is peachy keen. But, if you read between the lines, one could assume that Matteo was helping her move on from him.
Wander Darkly takes a tired trope and molds it into a different shape. Yes, we’ve seen the “grieving partner loses their significant other” storyline countless times. The subtle sci-fi and horror elements, along with Miller, are what keeps Wander Darkly afloat.
One of my favorite aspects of the film is its lavish score. Alex Weston crafts a lush, rich soundtrack that compliments the unfurling story. Heavy string arrangements play out while Adrienne is feverishly running down the hospital corridor. When she’s speeding through her home to find Matteo. While some films harbor scores that ultimately drown out the action, Wander Darkly utilizes music at just the right moments.
Admittedly, I spent quite a bit of the film in a state of confusion. Was Adrienne really dead? Could she be alive? The film promotes itself as showcasing a couple attempting to mend fences by dissecting memories to pinpoint their problems. However, the real crux of the movie is grief. How does one cope when their loved one is gone? Adrienne spends a good chunk of the movie in denial. The constant questioning may be a turn-off for some viewers, while others may find it intriguing. The memory exploration is non-linear, and the incessant back and forth between the past and present is enough to give you mental whiplash.
I went in with low expectations. I wasn’t sure I’d ever learn whether Adrienne survived the crash or not.
But then the twist came. Miele does a superb job of tying up loose ends and getting to the truth of the matter. A single mother in such a state of shock that she hallucinates her dearly departed boyfriend. While the film does meander a bit and keeps you guessing for far too long, the ending is a punch to the gut.
Wander Darkly is a heavy tale riddled with Inception-like dreamscapes and contemplative imagery. Miller is, ultimately, the driving factor. If anyone else had the reins this movie could’ve easily fallen through the cracks. The main drawback is the confusion. There are the sometimes muddled transitions between memories and the present. Additionally, the non-linear timeline may leave a bitter taste in some viewers’ mouths. This is an immensely depressing story with a bittersweet ending, which may not be something you want to watch in 2020. It’s not perfect, but Miele’s tale of grief is palpable and heartfelt with an interesting execution. Wander Darkly is a gritty reminder that our time here is short.
This story is a deep-dive into life’s most intense emotions. Feeling empty or “soulless,” as Adrienne calls it. Grief. Trauma. Denial. And, for a few fleeting moments, happiness. Adrienne learns, through her memories, that her relationship with Matteo wasn’t as frayed as she initially believed.
Of course, at that moment it’s too late. So, the moral of the story: appreciate what you have.
Wander Darkly is now available On Demand.
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