Fritz Böhm’s exciting new horror film Wildling might ostensibly look like a werewolf movie, but its star, Bel Powley, would argue that calling it as much would be a gross oversimplification. This reinvention of the werewolf does so much more.
Spoilers follow for Wildling.
The titular beast in Wildling is a wolfish monster, yes, but Inverse spoke with Powley recently, and she confirmed that the Wildling is a metaphor for female maturity. This transforms the movie into an extended allegory for how the patriarchy stifles women in modern society. Wildling is a violent and unsettling portrayal of how stodgy old men want to shut down burgeoning female sexuality, and when you watch it as an absurdist feminist horror allegory, then it’s totally awesome.
In Wildling, Bel Powley plays Anna, a teenaged girl that’s spent her entire life imprisoned, drugged, and lied to by a creepy guy claiming to be her “Daddy.” According to Daddy, she can’t leave because the monstrous “Wildling” will kill her if she went outside. When the police inevitably save her from this whacko, Anna spends some time seeing the real world with wide-eyed wonder. But this conceit quickly opens up into an even more compelling narrative in which we realize that Anna herself is the monstrous Wildling, except she isn’t that monstrous at all. The werewolf hunters in town are the real problem.
“It’s an amazing story about becoming a woman in our society and the obstacles you’re faced with,” Powley told Inverse. “Daddy,” we eventually learn, was one of the werewolf hunters in town that killed Anna’s Wildling mother, and he was doping Anna with hormone-reducing drugs that prevented her maturity into a Wildling.
As Anna finally does go through puberty, her burgeoning sexuality and emerging womanhood coincide with her development into a Wildling, which is a similar concept to award-winning author Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. But the world of Wildling is much darker. All around Anna are men hunting her, wanting to control her, and each has their own misguided perversions.
“I do think that what Anna goes through, it was very familiar to me, being a young woman having gone through puberty. Her transformation is representative of that,” Powley explained. “The men that were after her is also representative of the patriarchy and society, all those obstacles that young women face.” These pressures can be overwhelming for young women: What you should feel, how you should feel, even who you should have sex with!” Powley said.
The typical werewolf story is all about animalistic impulses and bloodlust overriding the rational mind, about losing control entirely. But the Wildling doesn’t need to feast on human flesh, even if they’re still powerful and combat sometimes violent animalistic impulses. They might look just as scary and lethal as the scariest werewolf you’ve ever seen, but they retain most, if not all of their humanity. “The Wildling is still part human. In the end when she’s fully formed into a Wildling, there’s a lot of humanity left in her.”
When asked about the seeming generic town the film is set in, that bears no recognizable geographic details other than being far from “the city,” she explained that was intentional. “It’s meant to be nondescript because it’s all metaphorical.”
That extended metaphor eventually does include the idea that the impulses we have from nature are just that, natural. So despite lots of violence and a fair share of gore, the way Anna comes to radically accept her Wildling nature can easily serve as a source of inspiration to us all.
Truly, this is a reinvention of what the werewolf is capable of, or maybe just a brand-new creature we’ll see again one day.
Wildling is now available in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD.