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Film Review: “Wander” Gets Lost in Its Own Story

Written by: Hannah Tran | December 3rd, 2020

Film poster: “Wander”

Wander (April Mullen, 2020) 1½ out of 4 stars.

April Mullen’s part-thriller, part-sci-fi movie Wander presents an attractive hook: centering the story on a conspiracy theorist who is asked to investigate a suspicious death in the isolated town of Wander, but soon begins to make connections between the case and the death of his own daughter, Wander is an idea that almost guarantees an equally satisfying conclusion. But while it would want you to believe otherwise, Wander delivers far more of mood than of story. With a plot that quickly grows overly complicated, it becomes almost immediately clear that the writing and direction lack the narrative handle and connective tissue to parse meaning from its broad ideas.

That isn’t to say the atmosphere of the film is any less intriguing. The desolate landscapes of the lonely world Wander inhabits look just as often bleak as they do beautiful. The colorful and kinetic visuals and occasionally unconventional editing choices are a pleasant surprise. The pleasantry only dies once you realize they are outrun by the overly complex but ultimately underwhelming storyline. What begins as an enticing premise soon becomes a weight dragging down any interesting elements this movie has to offer and making the attempt to veer into unconventionality feel somewhat slight.

l-r: Tommy Lee Jones as Jimmy Cleats and Aaron Eckhart as Arthur Bretnik in the thriller film WANDER, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

What it tries to make up for in mood, Wander completely lacks in substance. Excluding the protagonist, the story is devoid of compelling characters, and the characters of compelling motivations. The bad guys feel too much like bad guys, and the twists feel overly abundant to the point of aimlessness. Its occasional artsiness feels like a confused attempt to hide its own narrative uncertainty and longing for an unknown solution that would deliver on the shock-factor promised from the start.

While overall the performances reflect the curious but incomplete feeling of the movie, Aaron Eckhart (Incarnate) as the lead, however, does present a performance that feels undeservedly lived in, if occasionally overdone. The level of rigor he puts into the role ends up being far more watchable than the character, himself. While the archetype he embodies is initially captivating, in that it feels both ultra-modern and purposefully difficult to like, the writing does little to service the political implications that the film itself wanders into. Like everything else, the politics and social sphere of the movie are simply ideas that never fully materialize into a full thought. Instead of making its own statement, Wander is a mere collection of images and characters that echo others that have come before.

l-r: Katheryn Winnick as Elsa and Aaron Eckhart as Arthur Bretnik in the thriller film WANDER, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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