Review of The Wonder on Netflix: Florence Pugh’s captivating performance helps The Wonder overcome its main flaws, the slow pace, and predictability. The drama is set in a little Irish village in the 1860s when religious fervor was pushing people to extremes, and the actress who portrays nurse Lib Wright is at the center of this science vs. faith dispute. Lib is brought in to examine Anna O’Donnell, 11, who has been going months without food (Kla Lord Cassidy). Does Wright believe she is a miraculous child or that she is “a fraud”? The Wonder exposes the very unsettling layers of naive faith in a lavish and intensely atmospheric setting.
According to director Sebastián Lelio, Lib is the only “sane” person in town who has never accepted Anna’s account. She has therefore photographed alone and her outfits are colored differently than others. She never has any self-doubt and confronts the entire town of devout and domineering men who say things like, “It’s not your business to question us, Nurse,” head-on. Lib’s desire to safeguard Anna from what she perceives to be an impending disaster is motivated by the trauma of losing her brand-new daughter. How well will she do?
The Wonder establishes itself well. Lib is more worried about her personal safety due to the chilly weather and remote town. This keeps the audience on edge throughout the whole running period of the movie. In the end, attention is drawn away from Anna’s reality and toward Lib’s struggle with faith and its Christian masters. Pugh’s presence in every scene gives the story its dominant character. It almost seems like the director is teasing what will happen. There isn’t much room for a challenge to Lib’s side of the story because the reader has placed his or her own trust in the main character. So, wherever the turns take us, we innately know what the end result will be. The strain does not intensify as much on this level.
One of the movie’s main flaws is how slowly it moves along. You might lose interest in the second act, but Pugh pulls it back up and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. The Wonder appears to be a horror movie because of the eerie score by Matthew Herbert and the expert use of shadowplay by cinematographer Ari Wegner. But it’s not. It tells the tale of how Lib solves the riddle surrounding the miracle child and saves an innocent life.
The Wonder does address a difficult subject—the true cost of religious indoctrination. Pugh is excellent in the movie; she can emote and carry the audience along even in profile shots. She may frequently play parts of oppressed women (Midsommar and Don’t Worry Darling), yet she provides catharsis unlike anybody else.