Written & Directed by Frank Mosley
Her Wilderness almost put me to sleep, which in this rare case is a good thing. The movie’s first four minutes allows viewers to sit and stare at a soothing white background. Eventually, the sound of rushing water and singing birds gently redirects the audiences’s focus as the camera glides across a tranquil wooded area and settles its gaze on a boat floating atop a picturesque lake.
The film’s writer and director, Frank Mosley, takes his time gaining the viewer’s attention. The film’s opening scene unfolds at the languid pace of honey spilling down the side of a jar, which is exactly the point. This film is never about establishing a traditional structure. Instead, Mosley created a film about feeling. Right off the bat, Mosley sets the tone of the film by reaching out to the audience on a soothing, hypnotic wavelength that wraps itself around viewers like a warm blanket and ensconces itself somewhere deep inside their sub-consciousness. Her Wilderness is less a narrative based film than it is a cinematic meditation: this film graciously requests that viewers open their mind to a series of images and interactions that may or may not carry deeper meanings.
It is difficult to offer a synopsis for Her Wilderness. The characters and dialogue sit on a sliding temporal scale, providing only the slightest hints of narrative context for their words and actions. This movie asks viewers to perceive events in a vague manner that feels like an intellectual choose your own adventure story, one that allows the audience to slot in their own interpretations.
Early on in the film, a wife (Crystal Pate) and husband (Jack Elliot) share a discussion in their kitchen that comes off as dueling soliloquies. Each person shows no signs of registering the other, yet, the disparate conversations harmonize before the scene ends. Later on, a young girl (Riley Templeton) moves forward through a wooded area and the film never reveals her place in the story. Is she a flashback, a flash forward, or a manifestation of one of the character’s imaginations? Her Wilderness uses a wibbly wobbly narrative that weaves in and out of time, exploring the never-ending fate vs. free will debate — a perpetually inextricable discussion, even when tackled by more straightforward storytelling methods.
As basic as it sounds, it is important to point out that movies are moving pictures (more recognizably known as motion pictures). Film began devoid of sound, requiring captivating visual performances to engage the audience. Flash forward a century and movies now overwhelm the viewer’s senses with a flood of CGI, three dimensional images, surround sound, and vibrating seats. Mosley chooses to strip away all of the modern day clutter, offering a lean cinematic presentation in tune with his artistic expression. While Her Wilderness falls under the umbrella of film, in this instance, Mosley approaches the artistic medium more like an animated canvas. Mosley utilizes the passage of time to convey his perspective the way an Italian Renaissance painter applied shading to provide depth. The result is a film comprised of dreamlike sequences loosely held together by a whimsical structure. For most viewers, Her Wilderness will require multiple viewings in order to comprehend what has transpired.
100 years of cinema has trained audiences to expect the art form’s most basic storytelling methods and tropes, namely the three-act structure along with the hero’s journey. Those sitting down to watch Her Wilderness expecting a familiar experience will find a perplexing film that challenges viewers to pay attention. Asking the average filmgoer to appreciate Her Wilderness is like asking a Mountain Dew addicted, McRib loving, fast food industry sycophant to switch to a Whole Foods diet. This film is not for mainstream movie going audiences.
Filmmakers have the potential to create an unfathomable array or artistic expressions. Hollywood’s preference to ghettoize cinema into a tiny corner dedicated to for-profit filmmaking is a detriment to the art form. Mass-producing one-dimensional films conditions linear thinking from audiences and limits the scope of the next generation of writers and director’s imaginations. Frank Mosley’s film breaks modern filmmaking rules that never should have been in place. Her Wilderness is an audio-visual tapestry that steps outside of the traditional cinematic storytelling box, instead existing as an emotional experience. While what each individual takes away from the experience will vary wildly, the film serves as a jumping off point for further discussion and debate. Like any great expression of creativity and imagination, Her Wilderness is a playground for interpretation.