Period film The Wonder is being billed as a "psychological thriller." The film's trailer reinforces that idea, casting everything in the pale blue perma-gloom that makes even the most straightforward farm animal appear vaguely menacing from the right angle. There are moments where the clip feels like nothing, so much as a horror movie.
But this story's themes revolve much more specifically around belief rather than fear—how we, both as individuals and as communities, choose to see the world around us and why we often need to find hope in something larger than ourselves or long for proof that the suffering we're enduring has some larger purpose.
Based on the novel of the same name by award-winning author Emma Donoghue (Room), The Wonder dramatizes the story of the infamous nineteenth-century "fasting girls," young women who supposedly stopped eating for months or even years at a time without dying or even suffering significant ill health effects.
Numerous cases of fasting girls were reported in the late 1800s, the most famous one being a young Welsh girl named Sarah Jacob, who died of starvation in 1869. But this was hardly a new phenomenon: several Catholic saints during the Middle Ages were said to be able to survive for extended periods without nourishment, including Catherine of Siena and Lidwina of Schiedam. (These acts were categorized as miracles and a sign of holiness at the time.)
The film follows the story of an English nurse named Lib Wright (Florence Pugh), who is summoned to an Irish village to observe eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy), who has reportedly stopped eating and is said to have survived without food for months. Anna's seemingly miraculous behavior has many in the countryside convinced that she's been touched by God. Word of her abilities has spread enough that her presence draws pilgrims to her side, eager to see the saintlike child.
But as sensible young widow Lib gradually begins to suspect something similar or manipulative may be going on, the village starts to resent her questioning into something they think she doesn't understand. Is Anna a real-life saint? Or is someone just willing to work hard to make her look like one? And how will the villagers react should Liv prove their local miracle isn't so special after all?
The official synopsis describes the film as follows.
The Irish Midlands, 1862 - a young girl stops eating but remains miraculously alive and well. English nurse Lib Wright is brought to a tiny village to observe eleven-year old Anna O'Donnell. Tourists and pilgrims mass to witness the girl who is said to have survived without food for months. Is the village harbouring a saint 'surviving on manna from heaven' or are there more ominous motives at work?
The star-studded ensemble cast includes Tom Burke (The Musketeers), Niamh Algar (Raised By Wolves), Elaine Cassidy (A Discovery of Witches), Toby Jones (The English), Ciarán Hinds (The Dry), Dermot Crowley (Luther), Brían F. O'Byrne (The Magicians) and David Wilmot (Station Eleven).
The Wonder will receive a brief theatrical release before arriving on Netflix on Friday, November 16.