On the Fringe of Wild follows the experiences of three gay teenage boys in a small town in Ontario, Canada. The film centres on Peter (Harrison Browne), a quiet artist whose father (Andrew Bee) takes him out hunting in the woods to “become a man”; Jack (Cameron Stewart), a friendly boy who suspects his abusive father (Adam Jenner) may have killed his mother; and Miles (Mikael Melo), a closeted boy with ruthless internalised homophobia that he dispatches at both Peter and Jack. Miles and Jack have a sexually-abusive relationship that Jack attempts to free himself from through a new connection with Peter after saving him from a difficult experience in the freezing woods. All three boys face unyielding homophobic abuse from their parents, and find different ways (both healthy and toxic) of coping with this. The film grapples with the pleasures and dangers of being a young queer person discovering oneself, and although the movie is often beautiful and poignant, its depictions of homophobia and its effects are graphic.
The film’s official description describes it as a “2000s Romeo and Juliet,” already hinting at the tragic nature of its story. Despite a rather thin and meandering plot, Peter and Jack both prove to be characters easy to root for, and their romance offers important representation of gay young people. The ruthless Miles, at times, feels stereotypical of the “villainous gay,” but within a broader story of queerness, does depict the intimate-partner violence that sometimes unfortunately occurs within queer relationships. Whether his stylised characterisation feels believable is a question worth asking, but Melo’s commitment to the role helps it feel somewhat grounded.
Space and location is always up-in-the-air within the landscape of the film. It’s difficult to tell where people live and whether they’re away from home in cabins. The white plains and forest seem to blur into a snowglobe-like microcosm, trapping the characters. Space seems to collapse for the sole purpose of bringing characters together at the exact same place and moment to witness dramatic events. It’s as if triangulation is occurring between different sets of characters, pulling them together by gravity to engage in or observe vicious scenes play out. Although this seems to emerge from a lack of planning, script precision, or visual markers, the effect is not necessarily thematically inconsistent–queerness breaks categories and defies typical spatiality, often for positive outcomes.
A strong trigger warning is in order for this film, even if it risks spoiling certain plot points. An off-screen suicide and an on-screen attempt happen. Violent verbal and physical violence toward gay young people weaves its way through the entire film, popping up like punches just when the characters start to get their footing. This film is very difficult to watch as a queer person, but is worth it for those interested in screen depictions of queerness and homophobia. It’s hard to moralise about what should and should not happen to gay people in films, especially since homophobic violence is still very much a reality for queer people today. Whether these depictions are productive or not is hard to judge. Perhaps what might give one pause is whether or not the film earns its ending, but does violence against queer people ever feel narratively satisfying, even if the other characters and conditions surrounding gay people create an ominous threat? In reality, every year, so many queer people die, and it’s difficult to watch this played out on screen when stories with more queer joy are needed.
It’s a challenge to assess On the Fringe of Wild. On the one hand, it opens up small, everyday moments for intimacy between gay characters in a way independent films often do so well. Without the grandeur of big budgets, independent films can focus on the small fractures of life and how people deal minute-by-minute, day-by-day with loneliness and longing. Peter and Jack’s relationship in the film is fleshed out just enough that we want to see their relationship succeed and see them safely removed from the abusive environments they find themselves in. Even Miles, a truly despotic and despicable character, is caught in a trap of homophobia and self-loathing enough that although nothing will fully redeem him, we still may want to see him start out on the process of healing himself and transforming his behavior. On the other hand, the film’s depictions of violence, both to others and self-inflicted, may go too far, and simply retread tired traps of queer tragedy. Despite its many issues, On the Fringe of Wild does positively centre the lives of queer youth as valuable and worth transforming the world to protect.
On the Fringe of Wild is available on DVD and VOD now
by Bishop V. Navarro
Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter