THE WONDER (2022) l Netflix | November 16, 2022
Starring: Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, Elaine Cassidy, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Niamh Algar, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds
Director: Sebastián Lelio
A tale of two strangers who transform each other's lives, a psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
The Wonder showcases a powerful performance from the sublime Florence Pugh in this atmospherically chilling adaptation of the best selling novel by Emma Donoghue.
Only a matter of years after she broke out on the scene, but Florence Pugh has quickly become one of the most in demand actresses in the business, from Hollywood blockbusters like Black Widow, Don't Worry Darling and Dune: Part Two, awards darlings like Little Women, and horror films like Midsommar. Her name is enough to get audiences excited for a film, which is sure to make The Wonder an in demand title when it hits Netflix later this month.
Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, Academy Award nominee for her adaptation of her own novel Room, Pugh stars as Lib Wright, an English nurse sent to a small town in Ireland to investigate the strange occurrence of Anna, an eleven year old girl who has survived for months without food. While Anna is convinced that this is a miracle granted to her by God, Lib is there to observe from a medical perspective to determine how Lib has survived for this long.
It’s a psychological drama as you watch Lib grapple with the intersection of science and faith, while feeling the coldness from the community as an outsider summoned to disprove a truth that this entire small village believes. The Irish countryside adds an ominous feeling to the film, covered in clouds and rain, obscuring Lib’s surroundings much like the truth out of Lib’s reach. An uneasy feeling washes over the audience as Lib watches over Anna, as her environment seems to close in on her as science and religion clashes thanks to the stunning cinematography that captures the natural eeriness of the Irish countryside.
Director Sebastián Lelio does a wonderful job of capturing the many themes of Donoghue’s novel: the importance of stories we tell ourselves (highlighted by the sound stage set which opens and closes the film), the importance of belief and religion and its intersection with the truth seeking nature of science. It provides the two stars of the film lots of great material to work with, which results in two powerhouse performances.
Pugh as always is spectacular, anchoring the entire film with her performance. The script leaves a lot unsaid, leaving Pugh’s mannerisms and facial expressions to be the vessel for her performance. Though, even with the smallest facial expression or body mannerism from Pugh, she displays her character’s disbelief and horror in what she is being forced to accept about this young girl’s ability to survive, despite her scientific mind rejecting what she is witnessing. When it comes to the more dramatic moments, Pugh delivers her lines with such compassion that you are immediately captivated by her performance.
Opposite Pugh is Kíla Lord Cassidy, who is nothing short of miraculous! The fact that she is only eleven years old is nothing short of astonishing as not only does she give an excellent performance, she goes toe to toe with Pugh in every scene. The two of them have such a complex dynamic on screen that breathes life into the entire film, with the confession scene being their big moment. Not only is it one of the best acted scenes of the entire year, but the fact that Pugh and Cassidy did it in one shot is mind blowing as it is an incredibly intense and emotionally draining sequence with these two stellar actresses delivering a showcase of talent for the decade! It’s a shame that Pugh and Cassidy are not getting much awards discussion around their performances, because these are two of the strongest performances of the entire year. The rest of the supporting cast is good, full of talent like Ciarán Hinds, Tom Burke, Elaine Cassidy and Toby Jones, but there is no taking away the show from the powerhouse pairing of Pugh and Cassidy.
All of this culminates in an ending that truly challenges the viewer. The ending sees a difficult decision made, but it is portrayed in a manner that can be interpreted as hopeful, or a dark ending to this story. While I think it is hopeful in a way, it is a morally challenging ending that truly makes the audience decide on their feelings towards the ending based on which of their own morals is more evoked by this story. Florence Pugh and Kíla Lord Cassidy light up the screen with their dazzling performances that bring to life this incredibly tense and chilling tale of science, religion and storytelling, making The Wonder one that you cannot afford to miss.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5