Now streaming on Netflix, The Wonder is a slow-burning psychological drama starring Florence Pugh and based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue. With hints of horror and the supernatural, there is a lot to like about The Wonder, although overall it feels rather forgettable.
Pugh stars as Elizabeth ‘Lib’ Wright, a nurse from London who in 1862 travels to a rural village in Ireland to undertake a peculiar job. Alongside a nun, Sister Michael (Josie Walker), Lib is tasked by the local council to closely watch a young girl, Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy), who according to her family has not eaten for 4 months. Lib and Sister Michael must work separately and report their findings independently to the council, which is made up of Doctor McBrearty (Toby Jones), Father Thaddeus (Ciarán Hinds), Sir Otway (Dermot Crowley), John Flynn (Brían F. O’Byrne) and local innkeeper Sean Ryan (David Wilmot).
Lib meets Anna’s very religious family, including mother Rosaleen (Elaine Cassidy) and elder sister Kitty (Niamh Algar) who dote on Anna, especially following the death of Anna’s older brother. Lib examines Anna and discovers she is in very good health, and Anna’s only explanation for her fast is that she has been kept alive by consuming “manna from heaven”. Due to Anna’s miraculous fast, her family are often visited by strangers who want to speak with her and offer donations for the poor box in exchange for her time.
After spending a few days with Anna and searching her home for hidden food stashes, Lib is no closer to finding out how the girl is staying alive. Back at her lodgings, Lib meets William Byrne (Tom Burke), a journalist who grew up locally and has returned to prove that Anna’s condition is a hoax. With the community still recovering from the Great Famine, the locals are at odds with Lib as she tries to determine how Anna is fasting and save her before she dies due to a lack of food.
Florence Pugh is a phenomenal actress, so I’m quite happy to watch anything she’s in, purely because she’s in it. And, true to form, The Wonder is an engaging enough watch, mostly thanks to Pugh who puts in yet another brilliant performance, even in the scenes where she’s just walking across the moors or eating. She’s ably supported by a great cast, most notably newcomer Cassidy (daughter of onscreen mother Elaine Cassidy), who puts in a great turn as the troubled Anna. Some aren’t quite given a chance to shine, like Tom Burke, whose character is sadly very underwritten, despite knowing he can give a lot more.
The film itself looks stunning too, in a rather grey tone that screams horror movie, with a tense and emphatic score to go with it. It also features an unusual breaking-the-fourth-wall narration at the start and end that was entirely unexpected and enjoyable, although I’m not entirely sure what the point was in using this. The biggest issue with The Wonder is the story. It’s a very slow burning effort, which while not unenjoyable, makes you expect big things when it comes to the final act and those big things never come. The big reveal behind Anna’s fast is not unpredictable and the ending itself while not bad, isn’t memorable either. With all the talk about faith throughout the film, there are a lot of hints towards the supernatural or even some horror aspects that might unfold but nothing ever does and this is where this film has missed a trick. It could’ve turned a good story into something terrifying and truly haunting, and it hasn’t.
With a title like The Wonder, you’d be forgiven for expecting wonderful things from this film. And while it certainly delivers on performances and overall aesthetics, the slow-burning story doesn’t match up to its talented cast and crew.
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!