Wendell & Wild Review

Wendell & Wild
To achieve their dream of opening a hellish theme park, demon brothers Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele) recruit teenage punk Kat Elliot (Lyric Ross) as their ‘hellmaiden’. But Kate is still adjusting to her new life in a boarding school, and ­— hardened by grief and the loss of her parents — she gives the demons more than they bargained for.

by Kambole Campbell |
Release Date:

28 Oct 2022

Original Title:

Wendell & Wild

The fifth film from animation legend Henry Selick, Wendell & Wild is a dark horror fantasy crammed with myriad ideas. Over a decade has passed since Selick's last film, Coraline, but the set-up feels warmly familiar: an encounter with another dimension catalyses a profound change in its main character. Co-written by Jordan Peele, this particular story extrapolates Selick’s interest in troubled weirdos and outcasts across multicultural identities as well as demon dimensions. Returning to her home of Rust Bank after a stint in juvenile jail, the young punk enthusiast Kat (Lyric Ross) finds that the town died along with her parents, the suspicious fire that burned down the family brewery also sparking corporate takeover from the vulturous Klax Korp, seeking to demolish the area for a new mega-prison.

In resistance to such corporate dominance, the film itself is a raucous celebration of outcasts, from the moment it depicts Kat modifying her new Catholic school uniform with punk regalia — shot like the gearing-up montage from Predator while blasting punk music such as X-Ray Spex and Death from a boombox with an eye-shaped speaker.

As well as Lyric Ross’ confident, powerful vocal performance, Kat’s punkish appearance reinvigorates Selick’s offbeat flavour of stop motion. The film is full of angular, German Expressionist production design and fondness for Phil Tippett-esque monstrosities. It plays up both the ghoulishness and the feeling of tactility, through matte textures and touches that other studios would leave out, like the joints in the puppet’s faces.

Wendell & Wild sees Selick cement his reputation for genuinely grotesque children’s horror.

The designs of Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Peele) themselves are standouts: made to resemble their actors but with a strong 2D silhouette, their faces the same from every angle like a classic cartoon. As the pair, Key and Peele’s refined double-act also feels pleasingly old-school, a fun embodiment of the film’s pantomime sense of humour.

The wild aesthetic of the film is a constant highlight — an audacious early sequence, set to the tune of ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials, tracks disembodied souls through the gut of a demon (like another Jordan Peele horror film from this year). Calling a Selick film “macabre” is like saying you can find a fork in a kitchen, but Wendell & Wild sees Selick cement his reputation for genuinely grotesque children’s horror.

Though the film is sometimes unfocused, a heap of ideas crammed into its running time, its ambition is impressive — balancing spookiness, grizzly death, the prison-industrial complex and some nuanced emotional turmoil with silly, often dark comedy. Selick and Peele funnel the film’s craft into a children’s fable with a strong political message about the failure, cruelty and material greed of juvenile detention systems, the villains of the piece not at all pretentious about their purpose: revenue, not rehabilitation. Time hasn’t dulled the edge found in Selick’s sharp, delightful animated adventures.

Wendell & Wild marks the anarchic return of one of the most exciting directors in animation, retooling his idiosyncrasies in service of a boundary-pushing children’s horror with strong political messaging.
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