Ever since experiencing Florence Pugh’s explosive performance in Ari Aster’s masterful Midsommar, I have followed along to see literally anything she does next. Though Pugh has yet to star in any film on quite the same level, the closest until now has been her turn in 2019’s Little Women. Thus brings us to the doorstep of 1862-set The Wonder. After one of the strangest introductions I have ever seen—quite literally, this opening blatantly states that we are about to watch the film The Wonder—director Sebastián Lelio plunges us onto the doorstep of the great famine. Of course, this dark, depressing drama sees yet another excellent turn from Pugh. Where it lacks is in compelling mystery stakes, and in any type of excitement.
How exactly can one survive without food for months? This is the exact question posed to knowledgable nurse Mrs. Wright. In a setup that reminded me of Ichabod Crane’s initiation into the action in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, nurse Lib Wright (Pugh) is recruited to uncover the truth behind a mysterious medical anomaly. Apparently, an 11-year-old girl named Anna (Kila Lord Cassidy) has not eaten in four months, yet still lives. Defying all science and forms of logic, Lib is assigned to closely watch Anna. Is she really fasting, surviving on “mana from Heaven,” as she claims?
Mainly, Lelio and co-writers Emma Donoghue and Alice Birch choose to focus on the religious angle. Is this something that could stand a possibility of being real? While I get what they were going for, the pacing of the movie is way off. How exactly would anyone consider this a thrilling mystery? The acting is firing on all cylinders, but when the story is so overwhelmingly depressing, why bother? I kept wishing for the pace to pick up at least a little bit to warrant the presence of such indomitable talents, but alas.
The Wonder cannot manage to execute the same type of spectacle for its audiences as the characters in the film view Anna. People flock from all over the world to observe the majesty of Anna’s apparent biblical powers, but the film itself can barely muster passable interest. Maybe it will find an audience amidst the endless array of content on Netflix, or at the very least amongst fans of Florence Pugh. The connection between Pugh’s Lib and Cassidy’s Anna may be a powerful one, but the resolution to this story left me feeling cold.
The Wonder stops eating when it debuts in limited release theaters on Wednesday, November 2nd, then comes exclusively to Netflix on November 16th.