THE WONDER – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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The Wonder, directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio, takes place in the Irish Midlands in 1862. A young girl stops eating but remains miraculously alive and well. An English nurse Lib Wright is summoned to a tiny village to observe 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy) along with a Catholic nun.

Tourists and pilgrims gather to witness the girl who is said to have survived without food for months. Is the village harboring a saint ‘surviving on manna from heaven’ or are there more ominous motives at work? This psychological thriller is inspired by the 19th – century phenomenon of the “fasting girls” and adapted from the acclaimed novel by Emma Donoghue. After making an observation involving Anna’s mother, Rosaleen (Elaine Cassidy), Lib forbids outside visitors and as well as physical contact with her family.

The atmospherics and the soundtrack feels as if this is half a horror story and half a murder mystery, while the scenic back drops and creepy soundtrack reminded me of 1973’s The Exorcist. While Ellen Burstyn reached out to a priest to shoo away the demon living in her daughter, Florence Pugh pulls out all the stops with her bravura performance as she tries to learn why Anna hasn’t eaten any food since her birthday four months earlier while insisting she survives by eating “manna from heaven.”

The first half of the movie is a slow-burn, but the plot catches fire in the second act when science is pitted against religious beliefs in a contest of grieving mothers. Pugh gives a sober, determined performance as a young widow whose loss of a child in infancy causes her to self-medicate with opium as she tries to save another from self-sacrifice.

As Lib anticipates, Anna’s health begins to fail, but appeals to Dr. McBrearty (Toby Jones) fall on deaf ears and, appalled by the cruelty and betrayal of the act, she abandons an attempt to secretly force feed her. Lib also forges a relationship with The Daily Telegraph’s Will Byrne (Tom Burke) on her long walks across the moor to and from the O’Donnell’s thatched cottage, one which leads to sexual intimacy. Meanwhile, the all-male council who hired her refuses to accept her prognosis that the girl will eventually die.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.