The Wonder review: Florence Pugh shines in an Irish gothic mystery

“Sebastián Lelio’s The Wonder is an engrossing latest gothic mystery that offers Florence Pugh the prospect to show in one in all her best performances in years.”


  • Florence Pugh’s commanding performance
  • Kíla Lord Cassidy’s breakout supporting turn
  • An atmospheric, gothic mood


  • A repetitive second act
  • Several thinly sketched supporting characters
  • A rather rushed finale

In its outstanding first scene, The Wonder tells us exactly what it’s. The brand new film from Disobedience and A Unbelievable Woman director Sebastián Lelio opens on a modern-day soundstage. “That is the start. The start of a movie called The Wonder,” an unseen woman tells us. “The people you’re about to satisfy, the characters, consider of their stories with complete devotion. We’re nothing without stories. And so we invite you to consider on this one.” By the point Lelio’s camera has finished its patient opening movement, we aren’t any longer on a soundstage, but on a Victorian-era ship certain for Ireland.

We all know that the ship shouldn’t be real. We all know that the cabin we’re seeing is nothing greater than a set and that the lady at the middle of it shouldn’t be an English nurse named Lib Wright, but Florence Pugh, probably the most recognizable stars on the planet. The Wonder knows that we all know this. It knows that we all know the reality of what we’re seeing in the identical way that we all know that Michael Corleone shouldn’t be an actual person, but a personality played by Al Pacino. The Wonder, in other words, knows that every one stories are lies — scripted movies most of all.

They’re lies that we decide, at our own discretion, to consider. The film’s insistence on acknowledging this in its first scene shouldn’t be only a daring, attention-grabbing creative decision, nevertheless it proves to be the proper opening note for a movie that’s about stories and, specifically, the ways during which they will save or kill us, depending on which we decide to consider. Some lies, in any case, are deadlier than others.

Florence Pugh walks ahead of Tom Burke and Kíla Lord Cassidy in The Wonder.Aidan Monaghan/Netflix

Based on a 2016 novel of the identical name by Emma Donoghue, The Wonder follows Pugh’s Lib as she makes her journey to a post-famine Ireland as a way to participate in a mysterious latest job. Once she arrives, Pugh’s former wartime nurse is surprised to find that she has not been summoned to treat a sick patient, but to watch a neighborhood “miracle.” The miracle in query seems to be Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy), a young, religious girl within the midst of a quick that has been ongoing for months.

Lib’s project is to observe Anna and her family as a way to be certain that she shouldn’t be secretly being fed or in any way faking her own, seemingly ineffective period of starvation. Despite initially shrugging off Anna and her fellow villagers’ claims, though, Lib quickly begins to query each herself and her beliefs after spending several days with the O’Donnells. Unfortunately, Lib’s growing attachment to Anna not only leads to several past traumas coming back to haunt her, but in addition puts her in direct opposition to the beliefs and methods of lots of the Irish villagers she’s found herself surrounded by.

Over the course of its brisk 103-minute runtime, The Wonder uses Lib’s relationship with Cassidy’s Anna to explore themes of trauma, religious fanaticism, death, and rebirth. While the film occasionally struggles in its second half to iron out the inherently repetitive nature of Lib’s project, The Wonder mostly succeeds at transforming its tale of crippling guilt and love into an engrossing and compelling gothic mystery. That’s due in no small part to the work done by its well-rounded forged and, particularly, its formidable two leads.

Florence Pugh checks Kíla Lord Cassidy's pulse in The Wonder.Aidan Monaghan/Netflix

Pugh provides a robust, empathetic anchor to The Wonder as its central nurse. Her character’s intense emotional scars and unwavering desire to save lots of her patients from the horrors of the world also give Pugh the prospect to show in one in all her strongest performances up to now — if not her best since 2016’s Lady Macbeth. Opposite her, Cassidy gives a quietly commanding breakout performance as Anna, the faith-driven girl who has already found herself swept up in a maelstrom of spiritual and emotional darkness by the point The Wonder begins.

The Netflix film goes out of its strategy to visually reflect the duality of despair and hope present in each of its lead performances. Working with cinematographer Ari Wegner, Lelio turns Anna’s attic, where Pugh’s Lib spends much of The Wonder, into an expansive, shadowy space. By often relying solely on the pale, washed-out light that pours in through the windows of the O’Donnells’ home to light Anna’s attic, Lelio and Wagner are capable of create frames during which Pugh and Cassidy are standing in each light and darkness at the identical time.

Outside of its central homestead, the pale gray skies and muddy, green fields of Ireland only help The Wonder sell its gothic mood. Recurring images of pricked thumbs and Wegner’s ceaselessly regular, drawn-out camera movements also create an added sense of dread throughout the film, one which Lelio further heightens by filling a few of The Wonder’s quieter moments with looped reprisals of Anna’s each day, whispered prayers.

All of those visual and sonic motifs construct, along side the intensity of Pugh and Cassidy’s performances, to a 3rd act that is commonly cathartic and terrifying in equal measure. The film’s ultimate conclusion may, on the surface, seem far too clean for a movie as morally and emotionally murky as The Wonder. Nevertheless, there’s a dark, bittersweet truth at the center of The Wonder’s story, one which reminds us that even our most sacred stories must sometimes be left behind so as for brand spanking new ones to be told.

The Wonder premieres Wednesday, November 16 on Netflix.

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