There’s something buzzing underneath the surface of Wildland – literally. In Danish director Jeanette Nordahl’s crime thriller, everyday noise fills the open space, whether it’s the low murmur of a radio, the familiar hum of a fridge in the dead of night, or the grumble of an old car.
But while mundane noises like these usually serve to make a film feel more naturalistic, in Wildland they do the opposite. Everything is just a bit too loud, blending with the score and needling in your ear at the wrong frequency, the monotony of it all clashing with the violence onscreen. It’s a bit surreal, how quickly the ordinary can become sinister.
Wildland explores that dichotomy through the eyes of 17-year-old Ida (Sandra Guldberg Kampp), who, following the death of her mother is sent to live with her estranged, crime lord Aunt Bodil (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Bodil’s three adult sons. It’s a harsh, bleak tale that exposes the thin line between family and outsider, but something about this film always feels just out of reach. By keeping the audience at arms length, the cold vanity of Wildland pokes and prods at the fruitlessness of the human condition while still managing to nail down what makes us human in the first place.
Wildland focuses on Ida’s reaction to the events of the film, foregoing other points of view and plunging the audience into her world. Early on, this immersion is achieved by focusing almost solely on her face – if the camera points towards someone else, they’re usually darkened by shadow while she’s in light, or they’re in profile while she is viewed straight on. Kampp’s face might pull focus anyway – her eyes are sharp and pointed – but her expression is usually muddled, difficult to read. Multiple close-ups can evoke a sense of empathy, but Kampp plays Ida so close to her chest it’s hard not to feel distant from her even when zoomed in on her face. She feels clumsily stitched together in a way, like a battle scar – staunch against the elements, but about to break open at any moment.
Ida’s haltingly guarded mask contributes to a sense of remove for the audience, but there are moments where the film pulls you in just enough, and the mask falls. At her first breakfast with her new family, Ida’s eyes flit over the chaos at the table, a smile forming reluctantly on her lips. It’s almost tender, the way she watches them, and offers some clarity on what might have been missing from her relationship with her mother.
But when faced with the harsh reality of her new family’s vocation, Ida quickly stitches herself back up. In one scene, she accompanies the oldest brother Jonas (Joachim Fjelstrup) as he picks up the child of someone who owes him money on their way home from school. It’s a clear intimidation tactic, and one of the first times the audience sees Ida struggle with the reality of her family’s line of work. But even here, she’s putting on a front. She’s almost jovial at the beginning of the interaction, relaxed in a way that makes you question if she understands the severity of the situation. As that seriousness slowly dawns on her, she once again closes back up, rendering her real feelings unclear.
The hyper-focus on Ida’s reactions and her closed-off nature muddy the waters on how Ida views her situation, but one thing that remains clear throughout is how she yearns to be accepted by this family. The tension between her ambiguous nature and her explicit longing for connection almost heightens her humanity – which is odd for a film that seems so keen on exposing the fruitlessness of that. As the film goes on, she’s increasingly cut off from the family unit – even in moments of togetherness. In one of the only mildly joyful scenes in the film, the three boys and Ida go to the bathroom on the side of the road after a night out. They’re all standing close to each other, but while the boys are framed together in a line, Ida is separated. She’s alone, even when she’s not.
That sense of isolation – that coldness, that paranoia – permeates the film. There’s a detached quality about Wildland that makes it difficult to connect to, but in a way, also parallels Ida’s struggle. As the end of the film looms closer, the chasm between Ida and her family grows, but so does her need for someone – anyone – to accept her as their own. It may seem strangely motivated or nonsensical for Ida to keep reaching out the way she does, but one could say the same about watching Wildland. Maybe that innate desire to connect to something that seems so intent at keeping us far away is what makes us human – and also might lead to our demise.
Wildland opens at Film Forum, New York on August 20th
by Sammie Purcell
Sammie is a news writer for Reporter Newspapers in Georgia, covering the communities of Brookhaven and Dunwoody in metro-Atlanta. She has previously written about film and television for publications such as Boston University News Service and Oz Magazine, and holds a Masters in Journalism from Boston University. For more fun insights about movies, life, or Florence Pugh’s character-defining turn as Amy in 2019’s Little Women, you can follow her on twitter @sammie_purcell8