REVIEW: The Wonder (2022)

Florence Pugh, right, in Sebastián Lelio’s THE WONDER — PHOTO: Aidan Monaghan / NETFLIX.

Directed by Sebastián Lelio — Screenplay by Emma Donoghue, Alice Birch, and Sebastián Lelio.

General audiences are unlikely to see an opening shot as surprising or even mystifying as the opening shot in Sebastián Lelio’s The Wonder. If you go in knowing that you are about to watch a period drama set in the 1800s, then you’re going to raise your eyebrows when you see what awaits you. Lelio’s first shot shows an empty film set warehouse and a scaffolded house that likely contains a principal set for the film. A female voice sets the mood by way of an absorbing and mysterious narration that emphasizes how the characters in the story cling to and fully believe the stories they tell. As the camera glides into a set containing Florence Pugh in-character, the film begins properly. It is a showy opening that is effective in underlining the questionable reality of the stories we ourselves gather around a television — or inside a theater — to watch, and, even though this framing device is a narrative-breaking technique (not its only fourth wall-breaker in the film) that isn’t wholly unique (just see last year’s HBO Scenes From A Marriage remake), it absolutely is an opening that takes your hand and asks you to partake in the story’s mystery. I think you should accept the offer and the instruction to buy into what you’re seeing.

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REVIEW: The Power of the Dog (2021)

Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi Smit-McPhee in Jane Campion’s THE POWER OF THE DOG — Photo: Netflix.

Directed by Jane Campion — Screenplay by Jane Campion.

Based on the 1967 Thomas Savage novel of the same name, The Power of the Dog is a western drama set in Montana in the 1920s, when the old American west had begun to morph into a new era. While we hear about automobiles and cities at the local inn, the surrounding wide-open landscape and barren mountains still feel distinctly western. It is clear that the world is changing, and some of these changing roles are exemplified in the film’s characters.

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