The Wasteland, On Netflix, Fails To Even Rise Up To Its Title

The film constantly conflates darkness with fear, barren with loneliness, and silence with terror
The Wasteland, On Netflix, Fails To Even Rise Up To Its Title

Director: David Casademunt

Writers: David Casademunt, Fran Menchón, Martí Lucas

Cast: Inma Cuesta, Asier Flores, Roberto Álamo

Cinematographer: Isaac Vila

Editor: Alberto de Toro

Streaming on: Netflix

The Wasteland is an apt title for two distinct reasons. The first is its setting — a stretch of land that's bleak and practically lifeless. The second, although unintentional, is that it doubles up as a description of the movie — bleak and practically lifeless. The film begins by panning over the wasteland — a child needs to pee and the only accessible bathroom is outside their house. This sets the tone for the rest of the film. Instead of any kind of horror emerging out of the the ordinary, the horror — in the form of a creature that torments them — plagues their everyday. The film's ambition about the seemingly unambitious is precisely what sets it up for failure.

A majority of the movie is centred around a woman (Inma Cuesta) and her son (Asier Flores). Her husband (Roberto Álamo), whom we see for a few minutes, disappears after trying to find the family of a stranger who recently died. For the brief period he is there, he tries to make a soldier out of his son, unsuccessfully attempting to teach him how to shoot bullets and lacerate rabbits. And this family isn't immune to friction, which lends a hint of complexity to the film. The son, rather understandably, prefers his mother, and despite an ostensibly estranged marriage, she misses her husband while he's away. But for a film that spans an hour and a half, it's an hour too long.

When the father disappears, the mother and son are left to defend themselves against a beast that's never shown onscreen. When it attacks them, you can't see what they're shooting at — for all you know, they are just getting their target practice done. Over the last hour of the film, this beast relentlessly cavorts about their secluded home — we don't know why it is this house in particular, what this monster is supposed to do, or why the seclusion. We are simply victims of a film too lethargic to explain itself.

This is where the film's ambition founders regarding the treatment of its idea. Initially, the story is mired in the everyday details of the family's life — how they fend for themselves, commute, eat, and relax. They do all this under the shadow of the possibility that the beast may strike, which is why they are perpetually armed and alert. There is something quite harrowing and tormenting about the need for perpetual vigilance, but the story does not even bother to flirt with that idea. Instead, the film sags and plods along for an entire hour — even when it attempts to spare you of this boredom by infusing the plot with beast attacks, it remains confusing. It also constantly conflates darkness with fear, barren with loneliness, and silence with terror. It does not wring the emotions out of its setting — rather, it confuses its setting for the emotions. 

On some level, The Wasteland is a spiritual sister to A Quiet Place Part II. Both plots are driven by the children in the story who take it upon themselves to save their family. And that is the only thread of the film that works, especially because it is the child's relationship with his mother that grounds the plot to a certain degree. And while David Casademunt's directorial debut is sincere in approach, his story ends up communicating too little despite attempting the opposite. 

The Wasteland is currently available on Netflix. 

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