Ethereally atmospheric with perpetual melancholic undertones, THE WANTING MARE, produced by Shane Carruth and written and directed by Nicholas Ashe Bateman, feels loosely stitched together by a dream – one that is passed down from generation to generation. Shot entirely in a storage unit in New Jersey, Bateman digitally projects a striking fantasy world that is hidden in the heat under a thick sheet of clouds.
In the world of Anmaere, there is a city called Whithren, where wild horses are the city’s most valuable export to the Western continent of Levithen. Levithen is the land of eternal winter. It is a beacon of hope for the Whithren people, as it promises an escape from the stifling city and a chance to start again. People can get to Levithen if they catch a ride with the wild horse-bearing transport ship, but there is a catch – the ship leaves once a year and tickets are a rare commodity.
The film starts with a woman cradling a baby in her dying arms. In her final breaths, she foretells to the baby that she will have the same dream every night just like each woman before her. This dream is sacred as it holds the memory of what the world once was – alive with myth and magic. We witness the baby morph into a young woman named Moira (Jordan Monaghan) whose haunting dream gives her a clear path: get a ticket, get on that boat, and get to Levithen. Moira stumbles upon a wounded young man named Lawrence (Nicholas Ashe Bateman himself) who she nurses back to health. When he is healed she expects a ticket in return, something that he claims he cannot promise. What follows is a string of vignettes, recording a blossoming love story that feels especially magnified in such a barren dreamscape.
One day Lawrence tells Moira that he is going to go get that ticket, but instead, he returns to a wanting Moira with an abandoned baby. Disappointed with a new heavy burden, Moira raises the girl as her own with no ticket or Lawrence in sight. Thirty-four years later, we meet a grown Eirah (Yasamin Keshtkar) with the same mission as her adoptive mother: get a ticket, get on that boat, and get to Levithen. The story echoes once more before leading us to an older Lawrence (Josh Clark) who is given one last chance to set things right and let a dream finally come to fruition.
THE WANTING MARE took five years in the making, featuring “hundreds of visual effects seamlessly blend[ing] digital landscapes and physical reality”. Though the acting was fine, it was almost what the actors didn’t give that made it more powerful. The plot, simple and strong in the background, felt obscured by passing clouds itself, giving us completely over to the atmosphere. In his digitally-forged dreamy landscape, Bateman has created an impressive futuristic mythology. With large pockets of stillness, he allows the audience to not just see Whithren but feel it with its quiet desperation. Each scene feels like it was painted with quick brush strokes before it jumps to the next, allowing us to not just rely on Bateman’s imagination but also our own. As a truly exquisite piece of art, THE WANTING MARE is a great addition to the independent movie scene.