Wendy, a reimagining of Peter Pan through the lens of Beasts Of The Southern Wild writer/director Benh Zeitlein, is an immersive, dreamlike experiential hymn to youth, and full of wondrous chaos. Wendy herself, played by Devin France, is first seen as a baby, who witnesses a next-door neighbour disappear onto a freight train which apparently carries a grubby ghost. Years pass and, imagination in overdrive, she too takes a ride on a freight train with twin brothers James and Douglas (Gage and Gavin Naquin). The grubby ghost turns out to be Peter, a fearless and rather scary Yashua Mack.
After being pushed off the train, they find themselves transported with Peter to a mysterious volcanic island – a beautiful Montserrat – where the Lost Boys run amok. ‘Mother’, a glowing squid/whale-like creature, looks after them all, jetting up plumes of smokey steam and guiding them to underwater caverns full of glowing stalactites. Also on the island are the Lost Boys who grew up – people who have given up on their youthful dreams, overwhelmed by sadness and doubt, cast out into an arid, grey world full of wrecked houses, covered in volcanic ash.
These older lost boys, later helped by an injured, handless and lost James – a crafty reworking of Captain Hook – plan to recover their vitality by trapping the Mother that looks after them all, before eating her. Breathtakingly shot, full of beautiful imagery and remarkable, visceral performances from its raw young cast, this carries on the mysticism Zeitlien created for Beasts Of The Southern Wild. The tone varies for the viewer, however – moving from wonder and exhilaration, helped by Dan Romer and Zeitlin’s propulsive score, to irritation: scenes are overlong, and joyous youth often translates to lots of kids screaming.
There’s a paean to staying young at heart, but an underlying darkness too, as kids have hands amputated and grow old as if they are in an M Night Shyamalan movie. The freewheeling style and occasional lack of focus occasionally proves disengaging, but Wendy has its heart very much in the right place, culminating in a very moving climax. Part Lord Of The Flies, part arthouse Goonies, part Where The Wild Things Are, this is a flawed but daringly off-kilter reframing of JM Barrie’s tale.
Dir: Benh Zeitlein (15, 111 mins)
Out now in cinemas
words KEIRON SELF
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