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The Wonder ★★★★



Director: Sebastián Lelio

Cast: Florence Pugh, Niamh Algar, Elaine Cassidy, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Tom Burke, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones

Release: November 16, 2022 (Netflix)

Historically, putting a Brit in the centre of Irish conflict hasn’t gone down too well. We’re typically only a Derry Girls episode away from being reminded of that, but in The Wonder’s 103-minute runtime, Ciarán Hinds and Toby Jones are regularly on hand to jolt our collective memories. Fortunately, shipping Florence Pugh off to barren countryside only creates a cinematic marvel. With a strong ensemble performance examining themes an audience can never resist sinking their teeth into, The Wonder is a must for anyone with a Netflix subscription and a keen penchant for mysterious trauma. 

Set in the Irish Midlands in 1862, young nurse Elizabeth (Florence Pugh) is sent to a rural village after an influx of reports concerning local girl Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy). Upon arrival, Elizabeth learns the girl’s family has claimed she hasn’t eaten for four months, supposedly living off of “manna from heaven.” Tasked to watch her for two weeks and make an assessment, Elizabeth battles with her moral conscience as Anna’s health takes a turn for the worse.

For those that find religious aspects of social culture particularly scintillating, The Wonder is a surefire way of quenching that thirst. The film arguably isn’t touching on anything groundbreaking, echoing the cinematic remnants of classics such as The Magdalene Sisters and The Wind That Shakes The Barley. It serves mostly as a crash course on religious iconography for dummies, part-way dissecting intriguing ideals that hold a sense of seductiveness to the outsider. Manna from heaven becomes something you’d immediately want to Google as the film continues in the background, while timely religious rituals hark back to days spent watching dated VHS tapes with your substitute history teacher. Flozzy P’s side quest of a haunting backstory doesn’t always sit in cohesive tandem with the main narrative either, drawing the eye to strange voodoo folklore that never seems to amount to anything.

In the bookends of its cinematography, The Wonder swings big. Beginning and ending on a closed film set, the visual choice is both bold and enthralling — even if it is never quite explained why it needs to be included. Voice-over and character both break the fourth wall to address the audience directly, perhaps capturing the historical wants to be heard, or the need to be seen to speak. Counterbalancing the artistic choices is the stellar set of acting chops you’d grow to expect from its cast. Pugh is nothing short of exceptional, followed closely by the magnificent gusto of the supporting players. The Wonder can truly be wonderful, even if it occasionally drops the ball containing its sense of self. Though its cast and landscape serve it well, the breadth of its soundscape sings the narrative’s highest praises. Composed artfully by Matthew Herbet, the strength of family, religion, and keeping up appearances can just as impactfully be felt when closing your eyes. Perhaps a Tár style audio experience will bless our ears soon — the true manna from heaven we don’t deserve.

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