Rising Wolf


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Rising Wolf
"Despite having a beginning, middle, and finish, with all the exposition and tentative world-building this feels like part of a trilogy."

Also known as Ascendant, Rising Wolf does indeed go up, being set mostly in a lift. Elevator, even, since our protagonist is in Shanghai and 'Lip' (Cantonese) or 'Dianti' (Mandarin) are presumably harder for Americans to say.

There's a lot of exposition, a lot of moving parts even if the main one is the elevator car that we and our protagonist is stuck in. That's the sometimes eponymous Wolf, Aria. Or is it Nina? This is one of the film's many deliberate uncertainties. Charlotte Best plays her well. Like any Australian actor she's had her chance in the trenches and three or so years in Home & Away is more than enough to get one's teeth in.

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Gagged, bound, the opening scenes efficiently explore her surroundings as she does. The lift isn't as much dateless as it is a series of anachronisms, that mixture of old-fashioned future and futuristic old-fashioned. We'll get skyline shots later, a place-name. Initially though it's distant fireworks, a casino without clocks, a wall screen too expensive to damage that has static artefacts that suggest RF and not IP. There's her dungarees too, but they're explained soon enough.

This is a d├ębut feature for director Antaine Furlong, co-writer Kieron Holland too. Both have a variety of credits and have helmed a short apiece. The larger canvas of a feature, even a relatively short one at 102 minutes, isn't always well filled. It's not that it's not nice to look it, just that the pacing is off.

The lift also drops away at times. Physicists look yonder, because that denim is designed one assumes to hide a harness. Free-fall in sets of storeys measured in scores at most seems unlikely. The lift is one of a block of four, but they've helpfully coded it as the "hero" prop with extra yellow fixings. I suppose you could repurpose regenerative braking systems to act as motors, but if they had said it was a special express lift I missed it. An automated voice did say 'system error' a few times though, so that might be close enough.

The brief bursts of free fall have the feel of the 'standing up with the camera' thing in Upgrade, a neat trick over-used.

Through phone and video screen Aria talks to her father, Richard. Jonny Pasvolksy is also a Home & Away alum, but might be more familiar to international audiences from Westworld. Here he too is captured, but all is not as it seems.

Or rather it is, until it isn't. Though there's some good framing, the nature of the film is that actors are often emoting to themselves because it'll be CCTVed or composited or called through. Nobody's phoning it in, but the various forms of isolation and circumstance start to make it feel like a video game. Resident Evil and Cube both feel like useful references, but this is less ludic than either. An abbreviation on a safe turns out to have less import than one might think, but as doors open we end up with more mysteries. There's a reference to the Empire State Building which I won't spoil, but a call to 911 raises a couple of issues.

Indeed, one of the calls seems to rule something out in a way that's later cheated. There's a couple of times where the 'rules' that the film sets itself are broken, and that's bad form for a thriller. Though there's kidnapping and conspiracy the nature of the titular wolf is such that sheep might find themselves naked, and porcine property developers might look to their insurers. There are moments of strobe, sequences that are not dreams, even prophecy and mistaken identity. There's also a mysterious figure on the beach, whose eyes are lit with fire. You might think you're seeing double and you both are and aren't. The shot is repeated. The wave crash backwards until they don't.

The language is intermittently strong. For scholars of Die Hard it would require at least two Yippee Kay-Yays. Rating aside, it's not unreasonable to draw parallels with YA fiction. Not just the 'teenager in peril' 'family secrets' 'mysterious powers' angles, but also the oddities of pacing and dissatisfaction with the ending.

Despite having a beginning, middle, and finish, with all the exposition and tentative world-building this feels like part of a trilogy. Ladling backstory upon us through interrogators and interlocutors and flashbacks and voiceover it's not even certain if it's the first act. It's certainly not the last part, but when Neo flew off to Rage Against The Machine that still felt like an ending. Here the conclusion is less certain.

Despite its title it's not particularly uplifting, and for all the span of its ambition it doesn't really go anywhere either. There are some solid performances, it's well crafted technically. The soundtrack is similarly assembly line, the skirling strings that swell at start and triumphal phone answering feel really generic. A shame too, as David Hirschfelder's work includes things like Shine, Elizabeth, and Strictly Ballroom. He's worked with Furlong before on that short in 2009, but here the beats of both story and score feel tired.

One of the notes in the credits is that no single use plastics were used on the film. Somewhat ironic, really, in that in addition to feeling like many of its elements were recycled it should be so disposable. It's no bad thing to leave an audience wanting more, but the trick is to satisfy them first. This is a paper straw of a film, well constructed but ephemeral, and incapable of slaking thirst by itself.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2021
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Rising Wolf packshot
A young environmentalist wakes, trapped, kidnapped in the elevator of a super high-rise building at the mercy of her tormentors.

Director: Antaine Furlong

Writer: Antaine Furlong, Kieron Holland

Starring: Charlotte Best, Jonny Pasvolsky, Susan Prior, Karelina Clarke, Andrew Jack

Year: 2021

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: Australia


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