The Wanting Mare

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

SYNOPSIS: In the world of Anmaere, north of the city of Whithren, wild horses run through the moorlands and up the coast. These horses are the city’s most valuable export and, as a result, are hunted, trapped, sold, and shipped across the sea once a year. For those in Whithren, this trade passage creates lucrative and exciting possibilities: the chance to escape their constantly sweltering city and escape to the Western continent of Levithen, or simply to begin again.

Meanwhile, in a small house just north of the city, a young woman dies in childbirth. Her last words are an attempt to tell her daughter of the life she’ll have and her inheritance of a recurring dream that must be kept secret — for it contains the memories of another age long before us, one where magic and myth were alive in the world.

That daughter now left behind is Moira. She grows alone in Whithren, without anyone to explain her dream, her unique difference, or her place in the world. As a result, she resolves to leave Whithren at all costs, and employs the help of Lawrence, a wounded young man engaged in the criminal enterprise of stealing tickets.

This begins a series of events that echo over the next thirty-five years of their life, the life of a child found screaming on the rocks, and through the alleys and coasts of Whithren… a city hidden in the fog, wanting in heat, now beginning again.

REVIEW: The Wanting Mare is a breath of fresh air amidst the inundation of remakes, sequels, and spinoffs (and I say this as someone who has rabidly dissected just about every Marvel Cinematic Universe offering). Its setting feels incredibly familiar and at the same time eerily distinct: Director Nicholas Ashe Bateman creates a world that settles comfortably in its uncanny valley-like similarity to ours, a world populated by people who dress and speak like us but inhabit a different universe. A world called Anmaere, where wild horses are the most valuable export and people will kill to get a ticket out.

The film follows a woman named Moira (Ashleigh Nutt, Jordan Monaghan, and Christine Kellogg-Darrin all playing Moira at different ages)—whose family has matrilineally passed down the same dream for generations—and her daughters (Yasamin Keshtkar and Maxine Muster) as they look for a way out of the city of Whithren. The camera remains glued to the actors the entire time, almost never leaving their faces; it feels almost claustrophobic. Part of this, of course, is to save money on sprawling and detailed CGI locations, but it creates a sense of intimacy. The world is big, but our glimpse into it is small.

In some ways, this does hinder the world-building. We have been told about Anmaere, but our eyes can’t see what we’ve heard, so some of the plot points that rely on our knowledge of the in-film universe feel underexplained. However, the personal focus of the film makes viewers feel closely acquainted with the characters, and, in an ironic way, lets the world feel more lived-in. We might not know everything about the city or continent, but we know the characters, and through them, we gain a rudimentary understanding of the world and how it affects its citizens. And, on the plus side, there are no awkward exposition dumps.

Where The Wanting Mare really excels is its visuals. Nicholas Ashe Bateman has extensive work as a visual effects supervisor (such as for the upcoming A24 film The Green Knight), and it shows. Bateman shot almost the entirety of the movie in a warehouse in Paterson, New Jersey, but you would never know. He transforms concrete walls into a rocky shoreline or a distant coast, and does so with such a deft touch that the audience can barely catch on to the fact that the film wasn’t shot on location. Bateman’s visuals fill the movie both with warmth and foreignness at the same time; I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

I do wish that The Wanting Mare had taken a bit more time to explain its plot and the characters’ relationships, for there were several times where I had to rack my brains to remember what was happening. Still, even during those moments, I enjoyed watching the movie as a visual treat. Experiencing a film that feels wholly unique has become a rarer and rarer experience, but The Wanting Mare managed to craft something entirely original, and for that, I am grateful.

The Wanting Mare Trailer

The Wanting Mare is now available in U.S. Cinemas and on VOD Nationwide as of February 5th.

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

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