It all seems so ordinary. A couple on a date night (“it’s cheaper than couples’ therapy”), one which got off to a lumpy start because he forgot. They’re bickering – not surprising, as they’re suffering from the customary lack of sleep that goes with a six month old – but she feels there’s something more fundamentally wrong with their relationship. And, just as “that” conversation starts, they have a head-on collision with an SVU.
Director/writer Tara Miele has based Wander Darkly on her own experiences following a major car crash, and the film focuses very much on Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and her reaction to the trauma. It’s a journey into the past, re-tracing her partnership with Matteo (Diego Luna) from their first meeting, through their whirlwind affair and the arrival of their little girl. She’s searching for that turning point, the moment when it all started to go wrong, but she’s doing it through the confusing and often distressing lens of her own shock.
It’s a viewpoint that causes some confusion among the audience as well, as the timelines become blurred and there are moments when it’s hard to distinguish between reality and her imaginings and memories. But some of that is deliberate, allowing us to come close to some understanding of Adrienne’s mental state, from an out of body experience in the hospital to the inevitable result of taking a cocktail of pills. That everybody around her is telling her that she’s concussed, disorientated and just having bad dreams doesn’t really help her. Because she believes she’s dead.
As Adrienne’s goes deeper into her past, the tone shifts so keeping up with the film can be like grabbing a handful of water. But it’s impressive how Miele pulls off the switch from what seems to be domestic drama to something more psychological with just whisper of horror lurking underneath. And, thanks to strong performances from both Miller and Luna, it holds together, even if the love story is perhaps the weakest element of the film. Miller, especially, shines in the type of role that suits her best, one where her character is fighting herself and everybody around her to uncover the truth. Remember American Woman?
Despite its weaknesses, Wander Darkly will still hold on to your attention, even if you’ll be scratching your head occasionally, and has a slick knack of taking you in one direction, only to change direction abruptly when you least expect it. Which is what it does at its climax. And that makes it all worthwhile.
Drama | Cert: 15 | Universal | Digital, 8 March 2021 | Dir. Tara Miele | Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant.