Wander Darkly (2 stars)

Wander Darkly

Tara Miele is at the helm of a striking but bamboozling drama featuring strong work from Sienna Miller

Playing with the rules of time and space, life and death, this bewildering drama plunges us into the traumatic aftermath of a car accident, following a couple as they cast their minds back over the highs and lows of their relationship and begin to understand the reasons for its decay. Written and directed by Tara Miele (who has helmed episodes of the TV shows Batwoman and Arrow, alongside a few lesser-known films), Wander Darkly is ambitious and striking yet infuriatingly tricksy.

When we meet new parents Adrienne and Matteo (Sienna Miller and Diego Luna) in hospital they seem smitten with their daughter Ellie, but the shine quickly comes off their set-up when we see them at home. A rare night out lays bare their problems and we learn that Matteo wasn't keen on having kids, that Adrienne is disappointed that they're not married, that there are tensions with her interfering mother (Beth Grant), while both are jealous of people they perceive as romantic threats (Tory Kittles' Liam and Aimee Carrero's Shea). 'I'm dragging you through the motions of our life,' Adrienne grumbles; then the aforementioned accident throws it all up in the air.

Wander Darkly succeeds in capturing the confusion that can follow trauma, as a disorientated Adrienne drifts through her life. We watch the lovers revisit and discuss episodes from their relationship, inhabiting their younger selves and sharing their own specific and often contrasting memories of events. The alternately vibrant and ominous cinematography from Carolina Costa is the major selling point here; the way environments merge and time periods integrate often impresses, with the switches and fluidity taking on a kind of dream logic. But there are major problems with the narrative, which is very manipulative and delivers twist after confounding twist. And if the film isn't really deep enough to succeed philosophically, it also lacks enough truth to emotionally engage, while the characters just aren't that appealing, so watching them pick each stage of their love affair apart can be a bit of a slog.

With other elements not coming off as intended, Miele leans heavily on her leads to sell the shifts, Miller in particular. The actress is very credible and delivers enough raw emotion to initially draw us in, but with the story requiring her to constantly change things up, the ultimate effect is that we're pushed further and further away.

Available to watch on demand from Mon 8 Mar.

Wander Darkly

  • 2 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 37min
  • Directed by: Tara Miele
  • Written by: Tara Miele
  • Cast: Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Aimee Carrero, Tory Kittles, Vanessa Bayer
  • UK release: 8 March 2021

A young couple revisit their experiences together after a traumatic accident.