Possibly the most confusing horse movie ever made. I watched it, so you don’t have to.
Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s 2020 debut, The Wanting Mare, is a fever dream of sci-fi, fantasy and dystopian tropes that left me with more questions than answers. Let’s break it down in this (mostly) spoiler-free review.
“In the fictional city of Whithren, a ship arrives once a year to trap and transport wild horses across the sea. Just north of the city — past the horses running along the coast — a line of women pass a secret dream through generations.”
The movie opens with a newborn baby in the arms of her mother. Everything looks sort of dusty and bleak, including the older women sitting around the new mom, who has collapsed in a heap on the floor. She whispers something cryptic and barely audible — literally, I had to turn on closed captioning — to the baby about dreaming of a “before” and then she dies.
Fast forward and the baby is now a young woman named Moira that sweats all day by the coast and dances all night by herself in an artistically lit warehouse. One night, she finds a man badly wounded and bleeding out and she decides to keep him.
There’s a love montage working a cottage-core aesthetic, despite the 10-inch layer of sweat and grime on all the actors.
But then the boyfriend leaves to go back to the city and his criminal ways. Later, he returns and gives Moira a baby he found by the ocean.
Then he leaves again. For good this time, presumably, because there’s a 34-year time jump.
At this point — 39 minutes into the movie — you’re probably wondering whether this horse movie has any actual horses in it. Well, do not fear! The horses are here.
Really just one horse, though, along with Ocean Baby.
We learn that Ocean Baby has trapped and tamed the horse in the hopes it will secure her passage on the mysterious ships alluded to in the movie synopsis. She meets a man that already has a ticket for the ship, but he plans to sell his.
There’s another love montage, but this one is dark and broody. It ends badly and they both get shot. Then Ocean Baby’s sister shows up and carries her wayward sibling to Dad’s house. Yeah, he disappeared 34 years ago and he lives within walking distance.
So, then the movie … well … it takes a turn.
Because the horse eats Ocean Baby’s dead body.
But don’t worry, when dear old Dad takes a closer look, Ocean Baby’s fresh corpse was already transforming into ash and glitter anyway.
If you’re confused, don’t worry. So am I and I actually watched this movie. Twice.
The sister disappears and Dad disposes the remaining Ocean Baby glittery ashes off of a cliff and then he takes Mom to a dance club. He fails to mention that one of their daughters is dead.
There are two plot twists that I won’t detail — just in case you actually want to watch this movie — but know that we do finally get a quick glimpse of the much longed-for “Not Here” where the ships are taking the horses — a completely frozen landscape that looks entirely inhospitable.
I have never been so confused by a movie in my entire life. Was it a metaphor? Was it an allegory? I have no clue.
I didn’t even understand the timeline, much less comprehend the plot. The characters are underdeveloped, the world building is weak and the dialogue is minimal. As an audience we’re given very little to work with so, in the end, I don’t know anything about these people or their world other than one appears hot with horses — the place everyone wants to leave — and one is cold without horses — the place everyone wants to go to.
And, personally, I think even including a horse term in the title and alluding to horses in the synopsis was some kind of strange click-bait. One horse — singular — was featured in this story for a handful of minutes, and in its longest scene, it was eating a dead body. So not cool.
According to a review on rogerebert.com, Bateman hopes to do more projects in this same setting, so maybe this whole film is simply a prelude to something bigger … or more comprehensible.
I give The Wanting Mare, 0.5 out of 4 Golden Horseshoes.
Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.
*Correction: The original version of this article referenced a “review by Roger Ebert.” In actuality it is a review written by Roxana Hadadi on the website rogerebert.com.