Whilst the temporary closing of some of our favourite multiplexes and arthouse cinemas has been a devastating consequence of the pandemic, meaning the world has missed out on witnessing some great mainstream and independent releases – it has prompted many of us to seek out more diverse titles at home that may have previously slipped us by. One of these titles is Wander Darkly an ethereal melodrama starring Sienna Miller and Diego Luna. Written and directed by Tara Miele, the feature straddles the line between painful and poignant thanks to rich leading performances and subtle direction
Parents of a new six-month old child, Adrienne (Miller) and Matteo (Luna) are driving to a date night bickering when their car is soon ploughed by an SUV. Adrienne wakes up in an emergency room experiencing an outer-body experience, before stepping into her own funeral witnessing her husband and now teenage daughter. Surprisingly, Wander Darkly then picks up at Adrienne’s home where she is alive and well and told she has experienced some form of dream, yet is convinced she’s dead. To help her make sense of what’s happening, Matteo suggests they delve back into the history of their relationship.
Wander Darkly navigates a fascinating narrative territory where nothing feels certain nor the concept particularly grounded – yet this works to its advantage. We gain a sense of the disorientated tailspin that Adrienne is stuck in – blending elements of psychological drama with romantic melodrama. This helps elevate the somewhat conventional love story at the heart of the film – with these splashes of unorthodox psychological confusion giving Wander Darkly a unique flavour as it recounts key moments in the journey of its central couple.
Miele’s direction is naturalistic and quietly observant when capturing the more conventional moments of the couple’s lives – yet she injects moments of distortion throughout through use of extreme close-ups and subtle ethereal aesthetics touches including one which sees Adrienne staring at fluctuating glow on her bedroom ceiling. Blending flashbacks with moments of the apparent present also gives Wander Darkly an original, metaphysical style whilst expanding on the precarious bond between Adrienne and Matteo, deepening our attachment to these conflicted protagonists. From their initial argument leading to the accident to romantic scenes escaping to a quiet room in a busy party or passionate moments of sex leading to a bedroom fire, Miele layers Wander Darkly with these elegant natural moments delving into the previously strong emotional connection of the couple. Yet Miele balances these moments of romance with hallucinogenic scenes of panic and pain including one which sees Adrienne convinced her baby has died in its sleep.
Miller is tremendous as the woman living a distorted reality – walking what she feels is the thin line between this strange uncertain life and death, feeling like this could be taken at any moment. A challenging concept for anyone to embrace, yet Miller does so with a natural authenticity – making even scenes wandering through her own funeral striking and packed with a raw emotion. Luna is similarly impressive despite having less to work with given the slightly more grounded nature of Matteo – the actor brings in equal parts a welcome sense of charm and dramatic intensity as the husband navigating this trauma-driven marriage.
Wander Darkly is ambitious and skilfully crafted thanks to Miele’s direction and Miller’s central performance which add a sense of originality and ethereal flair to the traditional marriage-in-crisis drama.