A warehouse, a blue screen and a computer sure can go a long way nowadays. Rookie filmmaker Nicholas Ashe Bateman brings us to his imaginative world of Anmaere using limited sources and limited dollars. The result is a technical marvel and a testament to the exponential advancement of cinematic technology. Unfortunately, The Wanting Mare serves better as a model for DIY fantasy and sci-fi filmmaking than as a satisfying film.
Bateman’s only realistic way of bringing his ambitious project to life was by heavily relying on visual effects. Part of a viewer’s level of enjoyment depends on how much VFX he or she can tolerate in a live-action movie. Certainly, some breathtaking work has dazzled on screen in the past (i.e., Lord of the Rings), but I usually find more beauty in on-location shoots and in practical effects, especially for a poetic narrative such as this one.
In Bateman’s lyrical fantasy, a few citizens of the sweltering metropolis of Whithern seek a more free and magical life. The profuse sweat covering their bodies suggests a demanding and arduous lifestyle in a cutthroat city. Their hopeful gateway to freedom lies solely in a ticket for a ship that transports horses once a year to the city of Levithen. One young lady, Moira (Jordan Monaghan), maunders along the shores north of Whithren with the aspiration of making her secret recurring dream a reality.
Determined to create a mood where characters dwell in time and long for liberation, Bateman forgets to build the story and develop relationships. There is potential in the bronze-tinted city of Whithren to dig into its toxic qualities and show reasons for why escaping it is so popular, but instead, it mostly lingers in the background as a tease. While the largely metaphorical film is purposely ambiguous in its setting, its characters and their goals are also, in part, mistakenly unintelligible.
Bateman’s poetic approach handicaps character development. Showing five seconds of a dialogue scene, only to cut away and never return, is something straight out of the Terrence Malick playbook, and I’m not sure it ever worked for him either. One minute characters meet; the next minute they’re in love; and I don’t care if they live or die because I didn’t get to know them. It’s a big swing at conveying romance and a hard whiff.
Although difficult to watch, the persistent quality of ambiguity does make that dimension of the film memorable in the long run. Some interesting components stick in your head, like an unexplained hereditary dream and its connection to Levithen, the elusive, symbolic land of magic and myth.
It’s impressive that it feels like we are in a whole other world, when really we are in some New Jersey warehouse. Aside from effects, it took serious lighting skills from cinematographer David A. Ross to blend the real and synthetic.
“Let the dream grow in you. Let it reform. In time, it’ll come out” is the narrated wisdom Bateman gained through the making of his film. He envisioned The Wanting Mare in 2012 but lacked the know-how. He had some serious multi-tasking responsibilities, using a crew that was fewer in number than producers, and it paid off. I won’t be revisiting this one, but I’ll surely check out the behind the scenes short.