A dream of the past haunts the women of one family in Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s The Wanting Mare, which opens in select theaters, as well as arriving to VOD, on Friday, February 5th, thanks to Gravitas Ventures.
The film marks the feature-length debut of its exceptionally talented Actor-Writer-Director Bateman (The Circus Animals short 2012, The Fires, Howling short 2014), and you may be greatly surprised to hear some of its backstory. Created over the course of five years, and shot almost completely within the confines of a warehouse in Patterson, New Jersey, Bateman and his crew utilized computer-generated sets to bring the beautiful coast of their fictional Anmaere to life.
Story-wise, The Wanting Mare is a tale of two cities: Whithren, where it is hot all year-round, and Levithen, where it is cold. As the figurative grass is always greener, many of the inhabitants of Whithren hold onto hope that they will one day be able to attain a much-coveted ticket to make passage across the sea. Such is the case with Moira (Jordan Monaghan: Dirty Beautiful 2015, FBI series), who is plagued by dreams of the past, but focused on making her future in Levithen. Then she meets him (Bateman).
Eirah (Yasamin Keshtkar: Lush video short 2015), however, has never thought of trying to leave Whithren. That is, until she meets Hadeon (Edmond Cofie: The Circus Animals short 2012, Gets Good Light short 2020) one night and a whole new world of possibility is opened. Their chance meeting, and a sister’s (Maxine Muster: Long Ride Home short 2018, Rabbit short 2021) subsequent intervention, will ultimately draw two old lovers—Christine Kellogg-Darrin (Spanners 2013, Instinct short 2018) and Josh Clark (Murder in the First series, Proven Innocent series)—back together. But the question still remains: is the recurrent dream a curse, a prophecy, magic, or something else entirely?
Blending Science Fiction, Drama, and Fantasy, The Wanting Mare uses visual effects to create a new world (Anmaere) for its multi-generational tale of love and loss. In doing so, Bateman sets himself up for potential future installments in his fantastical land of fire and ice, one that is alternately bathed in foggy moods and inspiring coastal landscapes. Suitably, this all echoes his conceptual tale, one that feels like a cross between Emily Brontë’s Gothic tragedy Wuthering Heights and the sophisticated dystopian feels of Sci-Fi novel-turned-film Children of Men (2006).
Here, Bateman hones in on the idea of being born into the middle of a story that has already been developing for generations, exploring love and loss, hopes and dreams, throughout a multitude of characters. With the focus on the concept itself, and not character development or plot, the filmmaker and writer achieves mixed results. The conundrum being that The Wanting Mare is both visually pleasing and emotive, but its plot is more a dramatic concept, not a clearly delineated story from front to back. So its viewers must be willing to embark on a journey that, at times, can feel as though it lacks a clear objective.
The ingenuity will certainly be enough to keep some movie fans enthralled throughout the film’s succinct 82-minute runtime. And they can add to this a superb cast who, despite largely being new to acting, are phenomenal in their roles. Monaghan, who performs solo in quite a few of her earliest scenes, is noteworthy in her delivery of a very determined young woman. Plagued by recurrent dreams, wishing to seek freedom in a new city, Monaghan’s Moira establishes an initial tension while introducing us to the craggy cliffs and tall grasses of Whithren.
Bateman, who portrays the initially nameless gunshot victim that enters Moira’s life by accident, is also a talented actor. Effectively portraying a man who is embroiled in a life of crime, a man who is willing to walk away to spare the lives of the ones he loves, Bateman is one of the rare filmmakers who can also act with grace. And he is in excellent company, as Cofie is a superstar in his role of Hadeon. Harnessing the hardened exterior of a man who has lived in the city’s underbelly, he is equally able to depict the vulnerability of someone who is willing to lose it all for love. The actor’s performance is powerful enough to guarantee that he will be gracing many more screens in the near future.
All of this said, Bateman has more than proven himself capable of generating new worlds while relaying thought-provoking concepts. Sure, some of his ideas are not yet fully developed, but there’s enough strength to The Wanting Mare to inspire an audience to return to Anmaere in the future. Like Peter Jackson bringing the world of Tolkien to life, the filmmaker offers viewers the chance to walk along the stones of a new world, inviting them to experience a land that is not so different from our own.
Delivered with strong acting performances from its ensemble cast, wondrously-generated sets, and a timeless tale of lost romance, The Wanting Mare is most likely to appeal to lovers of avant-garde films rather than the ‘average’ Sci-Fi fan. With a definite European style and feel, sure, this futuristic gothic drama may leave some moviegoers with complaints of style over substance, but those who are willing to dig a bit deeper are likely to lose themselves in the genre-defying screenplay and its moving portrayal. For this, Cryptic Rock gives The Wanting Mare 4 of 5 stars. For anyone intrigued by behind-the-scenes action, a making-of featurette will be made public, for free, on February 5th, as well.