Wilder Than Her is a fascinating study of the mental deterioration of not only a person’s mind but also a friend group after the sudden loss of a critical friend. Jessica Kozak’s horror-thriller takes us on a journey with three women we rarely get to see in a film – an impressive feature debut.
After the death of their friend Bea, tight-knit friends Emilia, Finn, and Lucey attempt to reconnect on an annual camping trip, but things grow increasingly strange and uncomfortable in the isolated forest as their friendship unravels.
If you have ever experienced a death within a friend group, you will connect intensely with Wilder Than Her. Here, we see what happens when the apparent cog of a friend group passes away unexpectedly, leaving the rest to gather up the pieces. Dynamics and friendships abruptly change, and that question floats around whether or not a friendship could or should remain. Jessica Kozak explores this to wonderfully grim effect in her feature debut. Rarely do we get to see this scenario played out where a friendship, especially a female friendship, gets ripped into brutal shreds.
Emilia had such a connection to her housemate Bea that her mind (despite being a councillor) could not comprehend losing her so unexpectedly. She thought she knew her best friend, so why would she die the way she did? Finn and Lucey have their own personal connections to Bea that almost come across as competition between the women. Although they are all struggling, Emilia feels she is the most affected and is almost possessive of what she remembers of Bea. So, when revelations start to unfurl on the trip, that possessiveness begins to become an obsession about what really happened.
With Finn, she was always a wild spirit, but with the loss of Bea in her life, she has become more open and wilder, almost reckless in her life. She blames herself for the loss but won’t explain why. Which, of course, infuriates Emilia as well as fuels her paranoia about what went on that fateful day. With Lucey, she has always been the people pleaser, the middle-of-the-road doormat of the group who just wants everyone to get along. But with the integral glue gone, she is having a harder and harder time achieving that.
Finn and Emilia’s dynamic is the awful friction you absolutely hate to experience in a friend group. There is always one pair who, as hard as you try, just do not mesh, and that is these two. The awkwardness when we first see them together is horribly cringe-inducing. As Finn tries to not talk about the loss of Bea and to move on from it, Emilia keeps pulling her back into it. She wants answers, and as her contempt for her friend grows, something more dangerous does so as well. Suspicion.
When the women are together, they struggle, but this is a big but. Once the trio is separated, conspiring and paranoia evade their minds. As mentioned, this is a fascinating concept that is delivered so well. Emilia wants to have Lucey side with her and be suspicious of Finn and what she possibly did to Bea, and Finn wants Lucey to just chill and have a good time. For poor Lucey, this is a powder keg that she cannot control, and that keg finds its ignition with the introduction of the lone hiker Zeke.
What you appreciate in Wilder Than Her is that when the trio make it to the woods, we are not presented with this creepy-looking place that causes their deterioration to increase tenfold. Instead, usually, we are in open, well-spaced places with sunlight coming through the trees or the lakes during the daytime. The woods are a crux as that is where Bea died, but not anything else. In the film, the characters are already struggling in their own ways because of Bea’s death, and that splinter is long formed before the trip begins.
The wedge between them only widens because, seemingly for the first time in a long time, they are all together for a set period. We could feel the tension even just in that bar scene, so a couple of days of that is as apparent a disaster as you will see. Having that tension and fear within the group themselves is far more fascinating a premise and one that the film expertly builds upon for its 88-minute runtime.
Wilder Than Her does something great with perspectives that allow each character to shine. Sunita Mani, as Emilia, has the arduous task of being kind of all over the shop emotionally as Emilia fluctuates so dramatically throughout the film. Yet even when she is seemingly becoming more open as Finn would like her to be, she stops us dead in our tracks by returning right to form. With Kayla Foster as Lucey, she wants to please everyone, and you can almost feel her anxiety beaming out of the screen. Yet, when Zeke changes, we see her become far more playful; she feels like a character who has a lot pent up within her and with Zeke, someone she doesn’t know, she can release that. Kate Easton, as Finn, is just as great as a woman who is hurting more than her friends know but is just hiding it better. She becomes more of an enigma as Kozak has us mostly view her from Emilia’s perspective, other than the odd scene.
Zeke’s introduction heightens these perspectives as he appears to have a different relationship with each woman. With Emilia, she views him as this creepy weirdo who is far too good at creeping up on people without making a noise. Lucey has that obvious attraction to him and moves slightly off the perch on the fence to ensure he stays around. Finn sees him as someone to encourage the rest of the group to be freer, lighten the mood, and be fun. Here, we see him in three different ways, and it’s quite brilliantly done and structured.
Jessica Kozak has given us a strong, unique film in Wilder Than Her. Characters are rarely comfortable because they are still grieving; they haven’t opened up about their loss, which is breaking them. Paced and structured to perfection, the tension between the trio sometimes makes you feel it in your body. The first hour works so well as a drama that you wonder if the more horrific aspect of it is required. Luckily, it sticks the landing and shows that Kozak is a talent to keep an eye on.
The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival runs from October 12th – 19th. For more information click here.
I am but a small website in this big wide world. As much as I would love to make this website a big and wonderful entity. That would bring in more costs. So, for now all I hope is to make Upcoming On Screen self-sufficient. Well enough to where any website fees are less of a worry for me in the future. You can support the website below…
Our other method if through the wonderful Buy us a Coffee feature, but seeing as we are not the biggest fans of coffee, a pizza will do! We keep it fairly small change on that as well and it allows you to give just a one off payment, so no need to worry about that monthly malarky! We even have a little icon on the website for you to find it and help us out with the running of the website.
You can support us in a variety of ways (other than that wonderful word of mouth) and those lovely follows. If you are so inclined to help out then you can support us via Patreon, find our link here! We don’t want to ask much from you, so for now we have limited our tiers to £1.50 and £3.50. These will of course grow the more we plan to do here at Upcoming On Screen.