It’s rare that scrappy filmmakers with even scrappier budgets produce a movie as ambitious as The Wanting Mare. It’s an artsy poem of wide, gorgeous landscapes, a story of multiple generations that’s both confident and perplexing. If Terrence Malick dove into sci-fi, the result would probably look and feel like this. Audience reaction would be similar, too, as The Wanting Mare is a work of originality, beauty, and beautiful moments — and it’s tantalizingly distant from forming a connection with its viewers.
The visual style and mood just about make up for the narrative frustration. The spare characters in this long-gestating project from writer-director-actor-effects expert Nicholas Ashe Bateman seem to glide through the film’s dreamlike sets. In the darkness, luminescent birds soar over expanses of water and skyline. In the daylight, homes built into hillsides appear beneath a sun that seems to glow slightly different than our own. Everything feels really big, inhabited by what appears to be a scarcity of people.
That may be the result of the destruction of “the before,” a vague reference to a life that once existed. Details of that time remain out of reach for the land’s current inhabitants (I know how they feel), but they seem to appear in one woman’s dreams. The character, Moira (played by multiple actors of varying age), isn’t alone in receiving these visions, as they seem to run in her family line.
This fascinating idea is rarely addressed beyond what you just read. Bateman has a potential plot goldmine that he leaves unrealized. It’s possible to perceive that choice as right in line with the rest of the film, that this possibly devastated land — called Anmaere, by the way — simply lacks information. Characters stare, contemplate, and seem to interact verbally only when it’s necessary. Despite the consistency, I was craving a little more time just hearing about these dreams, perhaps to join in on an exclusive view of this wholly convincing world.
It’s a world that Bateman and a modest-size team have conjured by way of green screen and other wizardry — the results are jaw-dropping, a stunning blend of what feel like European seascapes and Middle Eastern plateaus, barren warehouses and towering walls. The plot, equally as curious, concerns a periodic ship transport that takes horses from one Anmaere location to another, from hot weather to cold. The land’s most treasured currency is a ticket on the ship, and people are ready to kill for one. It’s the kind of trip that has people leaving their babies behind on rocks by the water.
The more time I spend thinking about The Wanting Mare, the more I realize it’s a special piece of filmmaking, despite its tendency to favor lots of art over a little more story. It’s a film Bateman and team continued to come back to, through years of pre-production, a fundraising campaign, two periods of shooting, and three years of editing. I’ll probably be returning to their odd, fantastical world, too.