The Wonder

The Wonder: Movie Review

Review by Jill Sioson


The Wonder: A Slice of 2022 in 1862

2022 | Directed by Sebastián Lelio

Feature Film (1hr, 43 min)


Anna: “Is [the bird] trapped or is it free?”

William: “That’s for you to decide. Inside. Outside”


At first glance, you would think Sebastián Lelio’s The Wonder was another A24-ish horror movie pandering towards sexual liberation or some other political agenda through the vehicle of some religious cult. All the ingredients are there; a mysterious religious-fanatic town, beautiful cinematography, swelling classical music, a seemingly slow-paced story, and Florence Pugh’s iconic pout. And although the movie has some minor narrative discrepancies, The Wonder reshapes the cult-like narrative into a contained, feminist tale that questions the way we believe stories. 

The Wonder is a mystery drama period piece set in the drab Irish Midlands in 1862. The story follows an English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh), who the church engages to conduct a two-week watch over Anna O-Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy), an 11-year-old who has miraculously maintained good health despite forgoing food for three months. Lib starts to notice the constant visits from tithing tourists and pilgrims, venerating Anna for her “gift”. Along with journalist William (Tom Burke), Lib, a woman of science herself, endeavours to unearth the truth of Anna’s good health. However, after Lib uncovers Anna’s source of strength, she uses her professional authority to isolate Anna from visitors and family, causing her to slowly deteriorate.

The Wonder takes its time to properly capture the Irish midlands, its polarising beliefs, Lib’s disposition as a grieving nurse, and the uncanny devotion of Anna. 

Anna is initially depicted as the clichéd hidden evil in the town, with one character alluding to Anna’s healthy stature as the opposite of a miracle. Lelio indulges in the audience’s pre-set disposition towards young women and girls being the most vulnerable and most likely to be possessed, without any real depth to the character. These types of movies typically set out to expose the adults, the society and the systems, as the true horror. Lelio challenges this by giving Anna the ability to make her own decisions. Lib also encourages agency within Anna rather than antagonizing her for her beliefs and practices. Lelio allows room for audiences to understand Lib and Anna as people, both individually and when they share the screen. Pugh’s goal of saving Anna as both nurse and grieving mother, also remains very clear through her acting. 

Anna, terrifyingly played by 13-year-old Cassidy, begins as an uncanny Virgin Mary-Esque vessel. As the story progresses, we learn more about her innocent interest in women saints and her view on faith. It made it all the more heartbreaking to watch Anna discover and accept the truth about her family and the driving force of her saintly character. 

Lib is a vessel for the modern audience, in whose eyes we see the story unfold. She is progressive (well, for 1862), self-assured, agnostic-leaning, and enters the job wanting to expose the church and O’Donnell family. However, as Lib spends more time with Anna, she begins to see Anna for who she actually is- a little girl navigating grief.  

Where the film felt inconsistent was Lib’s uninspiring romance and declaration of dependence towards William at the end. Throughout the movie, we understand Lib as a grieving mother of a newborn child. It is the reason why she offers empathy towards Anna and her mother. Given the story’s strong inclination towards female agency, it would have enriched the story if William remained a neutral ally to Lib and Anna, who uses his privileges to help them.

The movie also peculiarly breaks the fourth wall by showing the film set before panning to the first scene’s set. This is also done at the end of the film. The technique felt unnecessary despite its attempt to connect the film to a modern society, and also contradicts Lielo’s efforts to persuade us of these women’s stories. The meta-bookends unfortunately disempowers its feminist message and renders Lib and Anna’s experiences as constructed and make-believe. 

In spite of all this, The Wonder is a fresh take on the religious thriller genre. Lelio’s complex portrayal of Lib and Anna breaks free from their Hollywood archetypes by focusing on the relationships and grief endured by these women. The story is not concerned with convincing us of the truth but rather what is humanly experienced. Despite its slight imperfections, The Wonder’s charm comes from its unsettlingly understated storytelling, making for a unique watching experience for thriller and horror fans.



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