Imagine the vicious crime family at the heart of David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom as seen through the eyes of a shy and scrawny 17-year-old girl and you’ll get an idea of the setup in Wildland (Kød & Blod), a brooding Danish thriller that opened this year’s Panorama sidebar in Berlin.
Directed by first-timer Jeanette Nordahl and written by Ingeborg Topsøe, the film follows the travails of a teenager orphaned by a deadly car accident and sent to live with her lawbreaking relatives, only to wind up way worse for wear. A bit heavy and monotonous in spots, Wildland nonetheless packs a subtly powerful punch that could hit select theaters and streamers outside of Scandinavia.
The life of Ida (the promising Sandra Gulberg Kampp) goes from bad to well, really bad, in a matter of weeks after her drug-addicted mom totals the family car, killing herself and leaving Ida to recover in the arms of her aunt, Bodil (Sidse Babett Knudsen of Borgen and Westworld). From the very start, it’s clear that Bodil is much more of a Ma Barker — or a Smurf Cody, to cite the memorable Jacki Weaver character in Michôd’s movie — than a Mother Theresa, ruling over a homegrown crime organization involved in loansharking, nightclubs and other shady endeavors.
Bodil’s henchmen consist of her three sons: the eldest and second-in-command, Jonas (Joachim Fjelstrup); the erratic middle child with a drug problem, David (Elliott Crosset Hove from Winter Brothers); and the younger pothead and gamer, Mads (Besir Zeciri). Where, exactly, Ida fits in among the three siblings is unclear at first, although she manages to find her place as a sort of silent partner, riding along for debt collections and hanging out in the club where the bros party hard each night.
Yet unlike Bodil and the boys, Ida has something of a moral conscience, and that soon gets in the way of the family plans when she witnesses a killing at their hands. With no one to turn to except a social worker (Omar Shargawi), Ida has to fend for herself as the home front turns increasingly volatile, with Bodil proving to be a fearful materfamilias willing to do anything to keep her sons safe.
Topsøe’s script establishes the action quickly, sticking to Ida’s side as she navigates an unfamiliar and increasingly unpleasant world, even if the presence of David’s girlfriend, Anna (Carla Philip Røder), offers up some female camaraderie. Sufficiently traumatized by the opening accident, Ida can barely speak and proves to be a rather passive protagonist — a bit frustratingly so at times, although she takes matters into her hands in the third act. Likewise, Nordahl’s direction can sometimes stick to the same note, with a droning score by Puce Mary that keeps the tone ominous.
On the plus side, Knudsen gives a perfectly understated turn as a single parent (there are no fathers around) who protects, or at least tries to protect, her sons while at the same time sending them out to slaughter. Indeed, like any dysfunctioning crime family, the one in Wildland is a mix of tenderness and cruelty, and Nordahl does a great job showing how Bobil can’t help being conflicted as both a mob boss and a mother. The presence of Ida makes that position all the more tenuous, and the clan will gradually unravel at the young girl’s hands, even if it’s never really her fault.
Although the film suggests violence more than it dishes it out, Nordahl and talented DP David Gallego (Embrace of the Serpent) do a good job staging the handful of action scenes with stark and brutal intensity, building toward a finale where the family’s wicked ways come back to bite them big time. Production design by Helle Lygum Justesen is also memorable, especially the nondescript suburban home where Ida is welcomed in as a niece and cousin, and then turned away as a mortal enemy.
Production company: Snowglobe
Cast: Sandra Gulberg Kampp, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Joachim Fjelstrup, Elliott Crosset Hove, Besir Zeciri, Carla Philip Røder, Sofie Torp
Director: Jeanette Nordahl
Screenwriter: Ingeborg Topsøe
Producers: Eva Jakobsen, Katrin Pors, Mikkel Jersin
Director of photography: David Gallego
Production designer: Helle Lygum Justesen
Costume designer: Emilie Bøge Dresler
Editor: Michael Aaglund
Composer: Puce Mary
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Panorama)
Sales: Bac Films