Wander Darkly shows just how a trip down memory lane can be murky rather than misty eyed. Director-writer Tara Miele constructs a conventional story of romantic blues but in an unconventional form. Initially intriguing, this feature soon meanders into gimmickry and triteness.
Soon after the birth of their baby daughter, Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) find their relationship in deep trouble. With their financial situation and emotional foundations uncertain, they become sullenly disinterested in each other yet bicker constantly. One night, a fateful car collision leaves the couple trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
Not just shattered figuratively, but psychologically and cinematically too. Miele shocks early on with queasy sequences of Adrienne’s disembodied experience that fluctuate between an uncanny purgatory and something more grounded. Is the female lead dead or suffering a detachment from reality through post-traumatic-stress-disorder? Caroline Coster’s cinematography casts doubt on either interpretation as it lurches between surreal and stable. Miele’s screenplay similarly emphasises this dissonant form, as the duo’s dialogue switches unevenly in and out of time, looking for answers.
While Miller and Luna sell the tired bitterness of two people who probably shouldn’t be together anymore, they lack much chemistry to make this relationship worth the struggle. The actors try to make the clunky lines work by being understated, but this pair’s depiction suffers from weak, soap opera dynamics. By the underwhelming and predictable conclusion it seems that Miele has merely sliced up a typical relationship arc and jumbled it into an irregular narrative. Not content with mystery, the director-writer even throws some horror-genre curve balls to confound the viewer even more. These jarring elements might suggest a traumatised mind, but they jolt any potential the film has to delve deeply into debilitating grief, prolonged depression and deferred recovery.
Ultimately, Miele hides the movie’s lack of psychological and emotional depth under a competent and shadowy style. Wander Darkly just doesn’t survive much scrutiny when it walks towards the light.
Wander Darkly is released digitally on demand on 8th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for Wander Darkly here: