The Wanting Mare [Chattanooga Film Festival Review]

A lot of trailers these days tout that the movies they're promoting come from a “visionary director.” Nicholas Ashe Bateman might really deserve that designation. His vision for The Wanting Mare was so strong that he spent five years planning and another five making it. With a microbudget that consisted in part of IndieGoGo contributions, Bateman and his tiny crew drove all around the East Coast, filming in different outdoor locations. Then he rented a warehouse, where threadbare sets were built, disassembled, and reconfigured using the same materials. Finally, about 650 visual effects needed to be completed in order to flesh out the story's fantasy world. Bateman learned how to create them himself.

The Wanting Mare may divide audiences somewhat, given its intentionally unconventional storytelling style. There's no doubt, though, that Bateman's vision is admirable and impressive. The movie has its World Premiere at the 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival, which will be held online from Friday, May 22nd through Monday, May 25th. The fest is open to residents of the United States only, and festival badges can be purchased at the official website.

The setup is difficult to explain without revealing too much, so I'll give you the press kit's official approved wording: “In the world of Anmaere, north of the city of Whithren, wild horses run through the moorlands and up the coast. These horses are the city’s most valuable export, and as a result are hunted, trapped, sold & shipped across the sea once a year. For those in Whithren, this trade creates lucrative and exciting possibilities: the chance to escape their constantly sweltering city to head to the Western continent of Levithen, or just to begin again.”

Got it? If not, don't worry. The idea is that there are several generations of women who dream of leaving their dystopian city behind and making their way to somewhere more magical. The Wanting Mare introduces us to Moira (Jordan Monaghan). Her mother died in childbirth, but not before delivering a message about a recurring dream her infant daughter will have all her life. Moira desperately wants to leave Whithren, and employs the help of a petty criminal to assist her. Something happens – which I won't reveal – and the film jumps ahead twenty-five years to come at the premise from a slightly different angle.

Again, saying too much about the specifics of The Wanting Mare would be to take away from the experience of watching it. Bateman is telling a fantasy story, yet one that does away with the normal conventions. You won't find action scenes or the cumbersome sequel-minded world-building typically found in the genre. The movie is sort of like a poem, in that you have to get on its wavelength and interpret it. Dialogue is minimal, there are few on-the-nose plot points to tell you exactly what's happening, and characterization comes from closely observing the people onscreen.

In other words, what you get here is elegantly-designed mood and atmosphere. Viewers who prefer a plot that spells everything out in detail may experience frustration. Those with a willingness to let the movie's spell envelop them, on the other hand, will admire what Bateman is doing. The Wanting Mare has an ethereal, dreamlike quality that invites you to contemplate some weighty themes.

Also worth mentioning is that the visual effects used to create this world are excellent. And subtle. Bateman doesn't shove CGI in your face. Instead, he uses it to make viewers feel like they've entered his fictional world. Although a low-budget feature, The Wanting Mare looks like a big-money Hollywood production.

I'm really glad I saw this film. In all honestly, I feel as though I'd need to see it again to fully grasp the totality of its ideas, but it's a heartfelt, ambitious work from a director who wants to offer something different and challenging. We should all celebrate such a desire.

The Wanting Mare is unrated but contains some mature themes. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.