Immediately upon premiere described as a Danish Animal Kingdom, centered around a teenage lesbian, Wildland is stronger due to its familial intimacy. Young newcomer Sandra Guldberg Kampp (who bears a strong resemblance to Raw’s Garance Marillier) is seventeen year old Ida, who has been left orphaned after her mother dies in a car accident that leaves her hardly injured. She is discouraged when invited to move in with her estranged aunt and two adult sons, warned that they are hiding something sinister, perhaps dangerous, but it’s a last bit of connection to life before that she craves.
It’s easy to believe in Ida’s trust for the new household, even if they may be violent criminals. To their own, they are kind and open, and welcome her in because of shared blood. The matriarch Bodil, Duke of Burgundy’s always great Sidse Babett Knudsen, is tender, loving, and consoles Ida even when she runs away from them. The girl disappears for a day, sprinting full speed through the forest in shock at the news, but comes back to what has felt safe for her in this turmoil before that day. Bodil holds her in a mother’s arms, letting her cry it out, feeling more familiar than she should as someone who is so alien to Ida, yet so close to the memory of her mother.
Is family found, or is family chosen for you? Ida may be accepted in with open, loving arms, but even she has her doubts as those around her warn her of why she was kept away from her relatives for so long. Ida sees them kidnap a young girl she had just spoken to, and is hardly shaken by it at the time, as step by step she is shown these acts of violence, starting small. It all hits her at once, the toll that the guilt of her family ties to this cruelty, and the snake of the family chewing on its tale. She watches her grown cousins argue with their mother but never leave, and she is warned by social workers, and offered, often coerced, to leave and enter foster care. Ida first had asked to live alone at the event of her mother’s death, as she is so close to the age of majority, and is denied this due to her grief. This isn’t insignificant, as it is brought up again as evidence of reluctance when the counselors wish to have her removed from the criminal side of her family.
The greatest strength of imagery in a film that usually bypasses metaphor to show its horrors more directly, is the contrast between life and death. Without giving much away, the film ends on a one-two punch, showing the death of one family member and the birth of the other. They are both treated with the same shock, though it is life that is given the uncomfortable, tearful closeness. Death is at a great distance, seen by blood on the wall and tearful eyes across the room, while life is intimate, it is taken close and personal for every scream, cry, and gasp as it is brought into the world. One life leaves and one life enters. Ida’s mother dies and the girl is introduced to this side of the family; one son dies and a child is then born.
Wildland feels like the human wilderness, family drama heightened by the emotional extremes that come with hiding. The family is secretive, they do cruel things for their business, but through Ida’s eyes they never once come off as truly evil. It’s complicated, an outsider may view this as cult -like (even knowing how tight intergenerational family dynamics stay compared to the white American nuclear family), with no member leaving, and generations staying close to pass down tradition and ideology. Ida trusts them because they are good to her, she is one of their own, and they comfort her through a dizzying, scary bit of life. This inside view is subtle, Wildland never roars beyond a family drama meets mob thriller, never going into full genre film territory, but it is empathetic for its young protagonist’s view. It’s not overbearing in production stylings, spare for some colorful glowing club scenes, and though it does have some cliche, clumsily inderted dialogue, it’s a tender family drama, ironic given its crooked heart.