Much like a fairy tale, 2018’s Wildling opens with a man (played by reliable genre stalwart Brad Dourif) telling a little girl about the title creature — which has long, sharp teeth and nails, and long, black hair all over its body — as a way of explaining why he has to keep her locked in a room with bars on the window and an electrified doorknob. “Do you want to hear more?” he asks and she shakes her head, but it won’t take long for the astute viewer to catch on to the fact that these precautions aren’t in place to keep the wildling out, but rather to keep the girl, whose name is Anna, in. (Some other clues that she’s far from ordinary: her incredibly acute hearing and the all-vegetable diet the man has her on, as if he’s afraid what would happen if she ever ate meat.)
Thankfully, director Fritz Böhm (making his feature debut) doesn’t make the viewer wait long for their first glimpse of a wildling, even if it’s only in Anna’s dream. While it’s debatable whether it qualifies as a werewolf, it lives up to its billing, ravenously devouring its victim while Anna watches, at once repelled and attracted by the bloody sight. This confusion carries over to the next morning when it’s revealed that Anna has had her first period, prompting Dourif’s conflicted Gabriel to start injecting her with “medicine” to halt her development. By the time Anna has reached her 16th birthday (and is played by Bel Powley from The Diary of a Teenage Girl), the “medicine” has taken its toll on her health in general, but instead of putting her out of her misery like she asks, he attempts to put himself out of his, a desperate act that lands them both in the hospital.
Suffice it to say, this is an extremely disorienting place for Anna to wake up since she’s spent her whole life in a single room with a bed frame made out of tree branches. Instead of being packed off to the sinister-sounding Bellington House, though, she goes home with kindly sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler, also one of the film’s producers) and makes the acquaintance of her jerky younger brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet), who’s a pussycat compared to the real bullies at the high school where she’s enrolled, the payoff for all those years of home-schooling. From there, Böhm and co-writer Florian Eder trace Anna’s integration into society as she eats her first hamburger, is given her first feminine hygiene product, and (continuing the Carrie parallels) spends an awful lot of time in the library researching predator behavior and the Aurora Borealis, which she’s mysteriously drawn to. She also attends her first party where she has her first taste of alcohol and her first close encounter with a would-be rapist, who doesn’t get to live long enough to truly regret his choice of target.
After that, things start moving pretty fast, which is a good thing because Anna’s started losing her human teeth (shades of Cronenberg’s The Fly) and growing the clawed hands and feet that have been her birthright all along. Speaking of which, she finally learns some things about her real parents from a fur-clad hunter (James Le Gros, listed in the credits as “Wolfman”), who tells her he hasn’t seen one of her kind in “16 years, since the last purge.” Seems these things have a way of going in cycles.