In 2012, filmmaker Benh Zeitlin rocketed onto the scene with a peerless debut film: Beasts of the Southern Wild. The work, a intimate yet epic tale both mythological and achingly human, earned Zeitlin Academy Award nominations, widespread praise, and made a star out of Quvenzhané Wallis. And then… nothing. Zeitlin didn’t make a single film for eight long years. But now, on February 28, 2020, Zeitlin is finally back with a new film called Wendy. And you can watch the first trailer now. And if you haven’t guessed by the title, it’s a take on Peter Pan.
I’m not gonna lie. When I first heard Zeitlin’s next project was related to the Peter Pan mythology, I was skeptical. We’ve been telling this story for a very long time now, and have recently seen some big swings from big auteurs (P. J. Hogan‘s Peter Pan; Joe Wright‘s Pan) miss. But then I put my knee-jerk reaction aside and thought about it intellectually. Beasts of the Southern Wild is already arguably in dialogue with the Peter Pan mythos — in that film, a girl is forced to grow up among unexplainable occurrences, while reckoning with her obvious childlike nature. Maybe Zeitlin steering directly into it will yield a more crystallized version of what he’s already interested in. And then… I watched the trailer.
And now… I don’t know what to think. Many of Zeitlin’s impulses are immediately present in the footage. Handheld close-ups juxtaposed against eye-catching wides. Raw, all-caps EMOTION bursting at the seams. A pool of young, never-before-seen talent promising performative authenticity (many scenes shown, where these youngsters whisper and yell at each other, give me some Lord of the Flies vibes). And most thrillingly, some moments of supernatural creatures swimming and existing and blowing my dang mind. This is all good, no doubt. But everytime anything about Peter Pan or “growing up” or “Lost Boys” is mentioned, or a character whispers a platitude we’ve heard a thousand times before, or the oddly “Hollywood” sounding score swells, I can’t help but think this film represents Zeitlin being forced to grow up and fit into something he doesn’t quite fit into. I am going to see the film, I know this for sure. But like Captain Hook and his crocodile, I’ve got a wary eye on it.
Check out the official trailer and synopsis for Wendy below. The film releases in theatres February 28, 2020. For more on Zeitlin, here’s our interview with him and his Beasts of the Southern Wild stars all the way back from 2012.
The classic story of Peter Pan is wildly reimagined in this ragtag epic from Benh Zeitlin, director of Beasts of the Southern Wild. Lost on a mysterious island where aging and time have come unglued, Wendy must fight to save her family, her freedom, and the joyous spirit of young from the deadly peril of growing up.