THE WANTING MARE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Never mind the dialogue, feel the tech, says Tony.
From the first moment of The Wanting Mare, which involves the artsy version of a screen-written info-dump, it’s a movie that screams film student angst.

You’re given a set-up in three paragraphs. We’re paraphrasing here, but it breaks down as hot place, cold place, horses in hot place, annually rounded up and shipped to cold place. For some not entirely specified reason, people want to go from hot place to cold place. Tickets – oooh, valuable. Drama.

We wouldn’t worry about any of this too much. This vaguest brushing-in of potential fantasy is magnificently unimportant for most of the rest of the movie.

There used to be a world that wasn’t in the grip of this polar (ahem) temperature division, we’re informed. It was magic.

That’s not especially important for the story, either. It’s probably important for the meta-story, inasmuch as the movie is seemingly set in a world beyond a point of climatological no-return, and the ‘magic’ world is a parallel with our own situation right now – where things can still be done to avoid catastrophe, but the window is closing fast.

Looking for actual story? That feels a little optimistic. There are magic women, tormented by an every-night dream of the past world, and driven, it seems, to get on the boat that takes the horses from hot place (Whithren) to cold place (Levithen). That’s more or less it. The world-building is emperor’s new clothes transparent, and in terms of its fantasy setting, it’s more or less meaningless – the film was shot mostly in New Jersey, and there’s absolutely nothing that says ‘Ooh, fantasy world’ about the setting. It looks and feels like contemporary America, just, sliiiightly hotter.

There’s a lot of arty mood in the piece, absolutely, but the longer it goes on with mumbled, low-conviction dialogue more wooden than anything George Lucas ever delivered, the more the overall mood feels like a demand that you should not get hung up on such trivialities as story, plot, believable character dynamic or really, even any hook. Feel the mood. The mood is sweaty, hot, unconvincing pretty people throwing occasional cryptic crossword clues of intention at one another, and, less frequently, having cliché-sweaty sex, so as to move the setting on a generation.
Moira (Jordan Monaghan) goes from newborn baby having a destiny whispered to her by a dying-in-childbirth mother to weird lip-syncing city loner in the space of a scene, and is the mostly unspeaking focus of the movie for the first 20 minutes or so. She meets Lawrence (Writer, director and lead actor Nicholas Ashe Bateman – where shoestring budgets and creative control collide), when he’s wounded while trying to steal a ticket on the ship to Levithen (Remember Levithen? Cold place? Mentioned it just two paragraphs ago, and it’s already hard to remember or care, isn’t it?).

She wants the ticket, because magical destiny and dreams tell her she should be there. Spoiler alert – they never go.

Spool forward thirty years to two sisters (bit of a fantasy trope creeping in there, maybe? Two sisters with contrasting destinies, yadda yadda yadda), Eirah and Elien (Yesamin Keshtkar and Maxine Muster respectively). There’s some vague idea that Eirah might possibly want to do the ship-boarding cold place thing, which is undermined or even directly contradicted by possibly the most genuinely meaningful line of dialogue in the piece.

And then it gets weird.

Not interestingly weird, just weird – and possibly the most annoying thing about that is that in a movie with about as much storytelling as a dishmop, it would spoiler the experience were we to tell you exactly how it gets weird.

There are revelations as we catch up with older Moira (Christine Kellogg-Darrin) and older Lawrence (Josh Clark, an actor who, in all fairness to him, looks as though he should be made of CGI, and like he could have played Thanos with just standard greasepaint). We’re at no point convinced to care about the revelations we get though, so really, their reunion is just a pathway to more cliché-sweaty sex and a promise never to meet again.
What we’re saying then is that ultimately, The Wandering Mare (allegedly the first of a set of movies based in the world of ‘Anmaere’) is a mood-heavy, tissue-thin, terrified-of-dialogue, shortcut-taking vaguely urban fantasy, which uses painfully cliched montages to show people getting closer and never by any means does enough to either a) connect its dots, or b) make us care about anything it says or shows.

It’ll probably be huge.

People will undoubtedly fill in its major gaps and holes with their own deconstructions of its tiniest points of on-screen relevance – that’s what we mean by it screaming of film student angst; you can probably micro-dissect every shot of this movie and write a thesis on it. In fact, it feels like that’s a whole level of why it was created.

More crucially though, you begin to understand why it was created when you stop thinking about it as a story, and start thinking about is as a movie.

It was largely crowdfunded, for a start. As a way of letting independent creatives get into bigger productions, without all the traditional gatekeepers of the movie business telling them why it’s not possible, or advisable, it’s an impressive bird-giving gesture.

More than that though, it’s an effects wonderland. Now, that’s not to say anything even remotely impressive happens within the plot that takes special effects to deliver. No, stop hoping for that.

But what you realise only when you step away from the watched experience and peer behind the scenes is that practically none of the scenery in the movie is ‘real’ scenery. Most of the movie is blue-screen, so vistas across oceans, across cities, even starscapes, are all generated by CGI.

This begins to make sense when you understand that writer, director and star Nicholas Ashe Bateman is best known for his visual effects work. What you’re watching when you watch The Wanting Mare is a highly impressive visual effects showreel with some mood, some dramatic pretention to fantasy and some edgy music thrown in to give it at least some attempt at a point.

Seen that way, it is an impressive feat. The more you understand that what you’re looking at isn’t there, and that the actors are walking in and reacting to environments they themselves can’t see, the more interesting the movie becomes – as a movie. As a story, it’s wafer-thin tosh. But as a movie, as an example of what can be done on a shoestring, crowdfunded budget with the right CGI, it’s a pretty breathtaking experience.

So what are we saying? As a story, The Wanting Mare is turgid, drastically underwritten and consequence-light mess with more ego than meaning. But, as a crowdfunded movie, as a showreel of what can be done with effects within a crowdfunded budget if you’re really, really good at it, and as a marker for how more off-beat indie movies might come to be made in the future, it’s intensely interesting. It’s not [Insert your own favourite storytelling movie here]. It’s more like Le Voyage dans la Lune. Or Metropolis. Or 2001. Sure, all those movies may technically have stories – but the reason you watch them years after release is because of what they meant for the development of cinema, rather than because of the nail-biting plot.

The Wanting Mare is not by any means the cross-generational story of yearning and lost potential people will earnestly tell you it is. There’s barely enough writing in it to let it qualify as fantasy, the character development is delivered only by cliché or staccato info-dump, and once you’ve watched it, your brain will likely want to kick you in the face for the time it took. But as a development in the way the geeky movie future could be, it promises good and interesting things. Just remember, if you’re following in its CGI footprints, you need to crowdfund for some actual writing and you could be the next big thing.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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