Ida is traumatized, wracked by guilt over the accident that just killed her mother. She’s all alone, and her social worker has told the 15 year-old with “addiction” issues that her aunt will take her in. Ida’s protests that “I don’t know them” fall on deaf ears.
And her first clue to just how wrong things could turn comes the moment she walks into her aunt’s house, as Auntie affectionately kisses Ida’s youngest cousin, muscle-bound and glued to a video game.
“You’re too baked, sweetheart.”
Before she knows what hit her, Ida is immersed in this family’s vices — smoking, clubbing, drinking — and its profession. The three sons, Jonas, David and Mads? They’re “collectors,” enforcers for some loan shark or other nefarious enterprise.
Ida, struggling to not make waves, forced to fit in and do ride-alongs, is lost in the “Wildland” that this functionally dysfunctional family lives in.
“Wildland,” titled “Kød & blod” in Danish, is Denmark’s version of “Animal Kingdom,” the Australian thriller that became a long-running TV series. It’s not as good as that harrowing 2010 movie, which featured Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver and Joel Edgerton. But it’s a fascinating variation on a theme, and a movie that reveals cultural differences in the ways its veers away from what was plainly its inspiration, if not its actual (uncredited) source material.
Sandra Guldberg Kampp (Netflix’s “The Rain”) makes a gawky, introverted Ida, a kid whose own problems (the “addiction” is mentioned just once) take a back seat to the ones she takes on when she moves in with Aunt Bodil (Sidse Babett Knudsen of TV’s “Westworld”).
Ida sees a woman who is affectionate with her three sons, doting on the youngest, Mads (Besir Zeciri), and almost utterly unconcerned with the way the trio turned out.
“Almost.” Because while eldest son Jonas (Joachim Fjelstrup) may be the “boss,” with a partner (Sofie Torp) and a tiny baby, all living with “Mom,” middle son David (Elliott Crosset Hove) is adrift, with hinted at substance abuse problems of his own and a bubbly girlfriend (Carla Philip Røder) his mother does not approve of.
Ida witnesses the kisses, and the slaps that govern this clan, the bullying oldest brother Jonas uses to keep the others in line. And she tries to fit in, be one of the boys, doing shots in the clubs, riding along on collections.
But the alarm bells go off in her head just enough for us to see her humanity. Jonas offering a little girl a ride seems a lot less menacing with Ida in the car. Him giving the girl a threatening note to give her father should shake her more than it does.
“What if he doesn’t have the money?”
“Once I talk to the kids,” Jonas purrs (in Danish, with English subtitles), “they usually do.”
Kampp delivers a poker-faced teen take on Ida, a kid numbed by loss, guarded and fearful at what she’s been thrown into. Ida sees the way the neighbors look at her and this house, sees the general amorality and manipulations of Bodil, and panics just when you think she should.
But who can she turn to? Who can she trust to not get her killed if she talks to the police? And who will she have if she rats out this mob?
“Wildland” lacks the fireworks of its inspiration, “Animal Kingdom,” and the larger-than-life turns by Jacki Weaver in the film and Ellen Barkin in the TV series, playing the gang’s matriarch.
Røder plays the most empathetic character and makes her a more upbeat, less-clued-in version of Ida — the surrogate for the audience in this tale.
And Fjelstrup, a veteran of Danish TV, gives a smiling menace to Jonas.
Other characters seem more thinly developed, and the story’s paucity in terms of big surprises work against it. But first time feature director Jeannette Nordahl puts us in Ida’s shoes and makes us ponder her uncertain fate just enough to make “Wildland” work.
Rating: unrated, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, some of it involving a teen, smoking, profanity
Cast: Sandra Guldberg Kampp, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Joachim Fjelstrup, Elliott Crosset Hove, Besir Zeciri, Carla Philip Røder, Sofie Torp and Omar Shargawi
Credits: Directed by Jeanette Nordahl, script by Ingeborg Topsøe. A Film Movement release.
Running time: 1:28