The Wanting Mare
by Hope Madden
Light on plot, heavy on atmosphere, Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s feature debut drops us in a distant post-apocalypse. Here, those trapped on a sparsely populated island of dust and heat dream of boarding the once-yearly barge that transports the island’s wild horses to a wintry mainland.
Poetic and dreamy, Bateman’s tale plays out before us without allowing us to truly penetrate it. Moira (Jordan Monaghan) has one wish only: passage across. She’s plagued by nightmares of a fiery past—maybe the event that brought about the now-times, nightmares passed down to her from her own mother.
She saves a man. He promises her a ticket. But how good is a man’s word in a society like this?
Bateman’s vision is often transportive. There are leaps in timeline and in logic that you’ll forgive by virtue of the lyrical nature of his story. This is a fable, not a drama. The Wanting Mare has a fantasy for you, if you have the patience for it.
You will need patience, though. The 90-minute runtime feels much longer, partly because Bateman’s storytelling intentionally keeps you at arm’s length from his characters. Without any skin in the game, the game becomes tiresome.
It’s never less than beautiful, but it’s definitely less than compelling. There are brief scenes in the second act that almost offer excitement, plot twists, some genuine call for redemption. These are the only scenes in the film that Bateman rushes.
Performances are necessarily stilted and can’t be criticized for that. We are not meant to feel close to these characters, although Bateman himself does personalize his character. His own acting style is far more accessible and intimate than that of his co-stars.
The benefit: act 2 feels more emotionally compelling than the rest of the film. The drawback: the film’s point of view becomes muddy. We travel through time along with Moira and her offspring, but because we identify with Bateman’s nameless man, these women become even more distant and peripheral. They are idealized reasons for the film to be rather than a driving force or voice in the film itself.
And that’s what the film is missing. It’s a gorgeous effort, poetic and somber and dreamlike. But it lacks a central voice, and without that, any real connection with the audience.