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'The Wonder' Film Review

There's a lot of deafening silence that provides an amazing palette for strong acting, leaving the heart of the story to get lost in symbolism.
Florence Pugh as Lib Wright in The Wonder. Photo by Christopher Barr/Netflix © 2022

Florence Pugh as Lib Wright in The Wonder. Photo by Christopher Barr/Netflix © 2022

Sebastián Lelio's The Wonder opens by breaking the fourth wall, welcoming us into the skeleton film stage environment. This bends the rules of conventional storytelling as much as Anna O'Donnell's plight defies logic. No matter how hard the story tries, it's never able to live up to its ineluctable promise. All the elements are here for a heart-pounding tour de force about the power of suggestion and the misuse of religion. However, there's not enough information given about the historical context of the environment for the necessary undercurrent of shock and horror to take hold. There's a lot of deafening silence that provides an amazing palette for strong acting, leaving the heart of the story to get lost in symbolism.

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Florence Pugh's Lib Wright is sturdy and blanketed in disdain. As an English nurse who's worked in the Crimea, she feels the role of watching Anna is beneath her and can't wait to get the foolishness over with. Pugh's indecipherable expressions and purposeful walk provide Lib with the false sense of superiority she should have. Florence emits a range of emotions through a look. When we meet Lib, she's eating. She's frequently eating throughout the story, not in denial about her life source. This illustrates that she’s an outsider who doesn’t buy into the hype surrounding Anna. For every fork of food she savors, the closer she gets to solving the mystery of Anna.

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The evil that Lib is up against is the basic desperation of the O'Donnell family. In post-Famine Ireland, families still struggled to survive. The O'Donnell's use their Roman Catholic faith as a tool for income. The more deified and martyred Anna becomes, the more money and fame comes their way. The danger that arises when Lib shows up is that they do actually stop feeding Anna. They don't want to be discovered as charlatans, so Anna's body starts to decay as she actually starves. The buildup to this is anemic though because there's too much attention on the fantastic and not the fine details of what's actually happening.

[L-R] Josie Walker as Sister Michael, Toby Jones as Dr McBrearty, Kíla Lord Cassidy as Anna O’Donnell, Niamh Algar as Kitty O’Donnell, Florence Pugh as Lib Wright in The Wonder. Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Netflix © 2022

[L-R] Josie Walker as Sister Michael, Toby Jones as Dr McBrearty, Kíla Lord Cassidy as Anna O’Donnell, Niamh Algar as Kitty O’Donnell, Florence Pugh as Lib Wright in The Wonder. Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Netflix © 2022

Kila Lord Cassidy gives Anna the mix of innocence and determination she requires. She is a beatific martyr. Her eyes are pools of questions and answers. Tom Burke plays Lib's only ally, journalist William Byrne. He is the voice of reason amidst all the chaos. He's the divergent force that helps Lib discover the truth and come up with a solution.

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Ari Wegner's lucid cinematography makes every frame a painting and paints the visual story unerringly. Matthew Herbert's haunting score lends an edge of mystery to the tale. But it can't make up for the sense of mystery that the story itself lacks. Alice Birch and Sebastián Lelio's adaptation of Emma Donoghue's 2016 novel aspires to be a psychological thriller but is interested in the story's conceit more than the machinations of the intrigue. This is the second book-to-film adaptation of Donoghue’s work. The first was Room (2015), which was nominated for numerous awards including a Golden Globe and Academy Award.

The film will be released in select theaters on November 2, 2022 and will be streaming on Netflix November 16, 2022.


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