Blessed by Shane Carruth, the auteur of Primer and Upstream Color, the directorial debut of Nicholas Ashe Bateman shares those films' beautiful cinematography and abstract narratives. Unlike Carruth's film, The Wanting Mare moves beyond the natural world into a surreal mythology. It has and should be praised for its technical achievements, pulling off some jaw-dropping visuals on a shoestring budget. While Carruth's films often invite multiple viewings to figure out their twisted plots, Bateman's film brims with potential but provides little details that may bring you back to it.
The primary exposition comes from an opening title card that introduces a world called Anmaere and a coastal city of Whithren. Wild horses run free and are the city's most valuable export. Every year, the equines are trapped and shipped to a snow-covered continent called Levithen. Residents of Whithren fight to get a rare ticket to board the ship to Levithen in hopes of a better future. This spawns crime and desperation in the city.
The film opens as a woman is dying during childbirth. She whispers to her daughter Moira (Jordan Monaghan) that she will inherit a recurring dream that has been passed through generations of women. It contains the memories of a peaceful world from long ago. As Moira grows older, she feels the pull to leave Whitren. She gets help from an injured gang member. Their saga is narratively split into three parts spanning three decades.
The most impressive thing about The Wanting Mare is the visual style it has. Bateman's imagination is often stunning. He creates an alternative world that doesn't feel borrowed from other films. This certainly helps keep things interesting while watching the film. There is very little dialogue and not much in the way of emotional pull. As the film goes on, the narrative begins to unravel. Striking images aside, The Wanting Mare left me cold. Bateman has constructed a believable world but nothing in the plot moves things forward. It is a seductive watch that ultimately left me empty.