Wildland (Kød & blod)

Denmark (2020) Dir. Jeanette Nordahl

Family is everything but for many of us, we tend to associate that with those immediate to us – i.e. mum, dad, brother, sister, etc. Whilst we may know the other branches of our extended kinfolk, we may find their day to day life is a little different from ours.

17 year-old Ida (Sandra Guldberg Kampp) survives a car accident that kills her mother Hanne (Maria Esther Lemvigh) and by being under age, Ida has to live with her aunt, Hanne’s sister, Bodil (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Bodil has three adult sons, Mads (Besir Zeciri), David (Elliott Crosset Hove), and Jonas (Joachim Fjelstrup), who has a baby daughter with his wife Marie (Sofie Torp).

Ida is a quiet girl, still shaken up by the accident and finds it hard to settle into her new surroundings, a little overwhelmed by the club Bodil’s owns and the macho ways of her cousins. However, it is when the brothers take Ida out to work that she realises they are dangerous criminals, running a violent debt collection racket. When Ida sees a man shot dead she wants out, but will the family let her go?

Comparisons have been made with Wildland to an 2010 Australian film Animal Kingdom which I have not seen, and judging by the fact the original Danish title is Flesh & Blood, it would appear international distributors also felt this way about the similarities when deciding on the English rename. Either way, both titles are relevant to the plot, a dark, gnarly tale of loyalty in a family unit.

Director and co-writer Jeanette Nordahl has form with Nordic Noir, having been assistant director on many TV shows, including Borgen which stars Sidse Babett Knudsen, so it is little surprise Nordahl is conversant in the muggy and taut style that typifies this brand of drama. Nordahl gives herself just 89 minutes to tell her tale, which has the potential to be a six-part series TV based on the complex personalities within.

Opening cold with the image of an upturned car, followed by shots of Ida and Manne being treated in hospital, we are thrown headland into a gritty world with little promise of light at the end of the tunnel. Ida is a serious looking girl, obviously overwhelmed at suddenly becoming an orphan, but seems to know her own mind, making her placement with Bodil and sons an unappetising prospect.

Almost a crime moll cliché, Bodi has the chic outfits, fingers covered in rings, and over confident strut of a controlling matriarch, yet inexplicably make no attempts to cover up her pernicious side when taking Ida into her home. First to meet Ida is Mas, the youngest son, keen on working out, video games, and drugs, an apparent family trait, as Jonas and David also look like they have just awoken from a night at the crack den.

Jonas as the oldest son and physically largest is essentially Bodil’s enforcer. Middle brother David has the biggest drug problem, stemming from insecurity issues and the fact his family dislike his girlfriend, Anna (Carla Philip Røder), pushing David further to the outside as he tries to please both parties. However, queen bee Bodil will always win, and David falls deeper into despair from failing to stand up for Anna.

When Anna falls pregnant, Ida, awakened to the family’s criminal exploits, encourages Anna to think of the baby and leave, or reconsider having it. This may sound harsh but given the environment she would be bringing it into, Ida rightly fears the worst; and as Marie is practically a ghost in the home (we could be forgiven for thinking the baby is Bodil’s), unpopular Anna does not have a bright future in front of her.  

Yet, Bodil is more of an ominous spectre, leaving the sons to be the active antagonists in Ida’s life. At first Ida turns a blind eye to what she sees after being initiated into their partying ways. But knowing the young daughter is at the house when her father is shot, a guilt ridden Ida runs to her social worker asking to be re-housed, only to be denied as she needs to give a reason, which she won’t do. This brings the police round and you guess how Bodil reacts to that.

Telling this story through the eyes of a traumatised teen gives the film its terrifying edge for the audience. The brothers may be scary in their own way – Mas drunkenly tries to hit on Ida, Jonas uses his size to intimidate her – and Bodil is the phantom whose mask we are waiting to drop, watching Ida easily sucked into their world under the pretence of family loyalty is unsettling.

Nordahl builds this uneasy tension over the course of the film, keeping the violence off screen, to make this a slow burning psychological tease of Ida’s conflict in deciding if being a blood relative is preferable to having hers spilled everywhere. Being the moral conduit for the audience makes Ida the most rounded character whilst the others suffer from not having enough time to show their depth. This is another reason Nordahl should have gone the TV route to make everyone more compelling.

But, the cast do well with what they’ve got, drawing us into the story and the actions of their characters. Sandra Guldberg Kampp leaves room in her studied performance to imply there is more to Ida whilst remaining supportable. Sidse Babett Knudsen will be the main recognisable face and it is odd seeing her play a nasty role, and as effective she is, the reins aren’t fully loosened to make Bodil the monster she clearly is.  

Ending on an abrupt, ambiguously gravid note like a horror film, Wildland has all the right ideas and ingredients for a typically immersive slice of Nordic Noir, but not the time to put them to all good use. However, you can do far worse than this if you crave a swift needling drama.

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