Wastelands – A dark, unsettling but vivid portrayal of inner conflict

This review is brought to you in partnership with Kemal Films

Indie writer/director Kemal Yildirim is no stranger to exploring challenging themes and visions in film. With both, his 2017 short Saudade and the 2012 feature Rose both exploring isolation, introspection and loss. Themes that dig deep into an individuals experience, providing both uncomfortable and often haunting film journeys. In turn, asking the viewer to explore their own mental health against a backdrop of moving pictures and sound. While never allowing for easy or quick answers in the journey each character takes. These themes find a further voice with his latest picture Wastelands. Where Yildirim opts to build on his previous two works, with a particular focus on the themes that were present in Saudade.

Wastelands introduces us to Alice (Natasha Linton) a lonely and psychologically isolated woman. Her daily life wrapped in menial cafe work alongside an obsessive sexual need to re-live her past relationships. Her grief, personal unhappiness and longing coupled with a need for sexual freedom and escape. As she teeters on the precipice between reality and fantasy in an unhealthy and solitary existence.

However, when her terminally ill father, Wilhelm (Sean Botha) suddenly requires her caregiving support. Alice finds her personal isolation and memories transported back to unresolved family pain. Her coping strategies slowly failing as she takes the decision to allow her ex-partner back into her life.

Alice represents the lost souls who find it difficult to navigate a world they do not understand. Wastelands for me was a way to explore a fractured mind and broken parental bonds.

Kemal Yildirim

The family dynamics at play in Wastelands are both challenging and ambiguous, as repressed emotions bubble to the surface. The power dynamics between father and daughter suddenly changed by a destructive illness. As Alice’s mental instability and need for self-protection interfaces with her past. In turn, creating a devastating and often dark narrative, that may be overwhelming for some viewers. However, this also creates a rich exploration of the links between family, mental health and the relationships we build in adult life. Ultimately providing us with an unsettling, yet important dissection of the role family plays in achieving adult stability.

Equally, we find sexuality and sexual freedom wrapped tightly into Alice’s journey; her only true escape from her mental imprisonment being carnal joy. Her brief moments of self-induced ecstasy, providing an escape door that quickly slams shut once reality comes back into focus. A theme long associated with 70s folk horror, where sexuality and physical pleasure often dovetail with internal conflict, repression, isolation and belonging. Ultimately creating an uncomfortable link between sex, vulnerability and pain. Of course, this does not mean Wastelands fits neatly into the horror genre. However, it does owe much to the simmering psychological tension of horror, as well as the painful merging of reality, inner thoughts and dreamlike turmoil.

I am an avid fan of what I call pure cinema. Films that use material as a way of exploring themes, thoughts, ideologies and nuanced ambiguity.

Kemal Yildirim

Yildirim’s belief in pure cinema is evident throughout wastelands, creating an impressionist style of delivery. However, this does at points risk alienating the viewer with an ambiguity that some may struggle to circumnavigate. However, for those who enjoy being challenged by film and are comfortable with artistic purism, Wastelands offers a fascinating exploration of mental health. Inadvertently reflecting many of the psychological themes we have all endured through the current lockdown of society. It’s narrative bound in the minds ability to entrap and cloud our need for self-reflection and growth. Ultimately offering us a dark, unsettling but vivid portrayal of inner conflict and desire in the face of social isolation.

Director: Kemal Yildirim

Cast: Natasha LintonKemal YildirimSean Botha


For further information and future screenings visit Kemal Films