Review: Chilling drama ‘Wilderness’ is a wild – if overly long – ride

Review: Chilling drama ‘Wilderness’ is a wild – if overly long – ride
The show is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 September 2023

Review: Chilling drama ‘Wilderness’ is a wild – if overly long – ride

Review: Chilling drama ‘Wilderness’ is a wild – if overly long – ride

LONDON: From the first beats of the first trailer, it’s very clear what “Wilderness” is about – newly married Liv (Jenna Coleman) has discovered her husband’s infidelity and, during a spectacular American road trip, decides to seek revenge in the most definitive way possible. It’s also set to Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor’s Version)” so you don’t have to be Benoit Blanc to deduce what’s about to go down. 

But then you realize that “Wilderness” is six episodes long, so perhaps there’s more to the story than a simple tale of a scorned woman settling the score? 

Well, yes and no. There’s more to learn about Liv’s marriage to handsome, charismatic Will (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), her relationship with her abrasive mother (Claire Rushbrook) and what brought the newlyweds to the US in the first place. There’s more sleuthing for Liv to do as she reveals the extent of Will’s philandering, and there’s some commentary on the trope of the slighted wife and how reductive it can be.  

But there certainly isn’t six episode’s worth of material, so “Wilderness” ends up feeling stretched thin in some places, and overly padded in others. Ironically, after congratulating itself for reflexively highlighting how women are always assumed to be the unhinged victims of male misbehavior, the show decides to rob Liv of much of her agency. She’s either reacting to things Will has done, or scrabbling to adjust when his web of lies throws up another curveball. 

Coleman is captivating, that’s for sure, but she’s slightly penned in by a character who flits from empowered decisiveness to pleading submissive so easily that it’s hard to get a firm handle on exactly who Liv is. At times, she’s steely and cold, at others she falls foul of many of the tropes “Wilderness” attempts to send up.  

“Wilderness” is certainly a gorgeous, stylish show. It’s just a shame that it’s two episodes – and twists – too long.

RSIFF title ‘Antidote’ sheds light on the challenges faced by Saudi musicians in the past

RSIFF title ‘Antidote’ sheds light on the challenges faced by Saudi musicians in the past
Updated 3 min 38 sec ago

RSIFF title ‘Antidote’ sheds light on the challenges faced by Saudi musicians in the past

RSIFF title ‘Antidote’ sheds light on the challenges faced by Saudi musicians in the past

JEDDAH: Saudi director Hassan Saeed is set to unveil his short film “Antidote” at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah and spoke to Arab News ahead of the screening to explain the themes he explores and why he chose to tell this story. 

The 20-minute film tells the story of a young boy, Ali, who sets out with his father’s tape recorder to record a folk singer named Abu Hussain.

However, Abu Hussain loses his voice after undergoing throat surgery, and Ali reconnects with him through a previous recording. The deliberate use of silence surrounding Abu Hussain serves as a powerful motif, symbolizing his enduring struggle and passion for music, set against the challenges faced by Saudi musicians in the past.

Saeed said that he drew inspiration for “Antidote” from his formative years in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

“Having grown up in a society where musicians and music were not widely embraced, my goal was to portray the challenges encountered by underground musicians in the 1990s. The film intertwines a personal narrative with a broader cultural context, showcasing the unwavering determination and commitment of artists in the face of adversity,” he said.

Saudi director Hassan Saeed on set. (Supplied)

The director is excited about showing his work to global audiences at the festival, which attracts participation from international industry figures.

“I firmly believe that our stories possess a unique quality, and through ‘Antidote,’ we can offer a fresh and captivating perspective to audiences worldwide. I anticipate the film resonating deeply with viewers, sparking meaningful conversations, and bridging cultural gaps,” he said.

“I am thrilled about the prospect of presenting ‘Antidote’ at the Red Sea Film Festival, as it offers an ideal setting to connect with international directors and producers who share a profound passion for cinema.”

Reflecting on his career as a filmmaker, Saeed said that growing up in a conservative society with limited access to cinema, his fascination with the art form began with a VHS camcorder in the late 1980s. This early exposure to capturing moments on film sparked his love for observing the world through a lens.

The film's poster. (Supplied)

Saeed’s hope is that “Antidote” will allow audiences to connect with the characters and their struggles, and also spark an appreciation for local stories.

“The characters and their journeys are not limited to a specific culture or region; they represent universal experiences that can resonate with people from different backgrounds,” he said.

“Through my work, I hope to bridge cultural gaps and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of Saudi culture.”

With its unique storytelling and cinematic style, “Antidote” stands out, particularly as a period piece set in the 1990s.

The film was made in collaboration with German director of photography Christoph Schumann, and has garnered widespread recognition, including two Golden Palm awards for best short film and best cinematography at the 2023 Saudi Film Festival.

Saeed said that through “Antidote” and future projects, he hopes to contribute to a “more comprehensive and accurate understanding of Saudi culture on a global scale.”

He added: “Film has the power to transcend boundaries and bring people together, and it is my mission to use this medium to tell meaningful and impactful stories.”

Oscar-nominated director Kaouther Ben Hania on challenges faced filming ‘Four Daughters’

Oscar-nominated director Kaouther Ben Hania on challenges faced filming ‘Four Daughters’
Updated 19 sec ago

Oscar-nominated director Kaouther Ben Hania on challenges faced filming ‘Four Daughters’

Oscar-nominated director Kaouther Ben Hania on challenges faced filming ‘Four Daughters’

DUBAI: After winning the L’Oeil d’or award for best documentary following its premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s movie “Four Daughters” will now screen at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival.

Ben Hania is no stranger to critical acclaim and saw her 2020 feature "The Man Who Sold His Skin" nominated at the Academy Awards in the best international feature film category. Tunisia has now submitted her latest film in the same category for the 2024 Oscars, with the nominations yet to be announced. 

She spoke to Arab News about the challenges involved in filming the flick.



She said: “It’s not about one scene or another. It’s about how to translate all the complexity of this story, all the layers of this story, because it’s a movie about motherhood.

“It’s a movie about transmission between generations, transmission of trauma also. It’s a movie about Tunisia. All those themes were very important to me.”

The film tells the true story of Olfa Hamrouni, a heart-broken Tunisian mother of four daughters. The two eldest, aged 15 and 16, disappear in 2015 after being radicalized by extremists.

Ben Hania started working on “Four Daughters” in 2016, when she first heard the story on the news in Tunisia.

“I started thinking about making a documentary about it. But when I met Olfa and her daughters, I thought that I could do a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It took me some years to come up with the actual form of the movie,” she added.

Professional actresses filled in for the missing sisters, while renowned Egyptian actress Hend Sabri replaced Hamrouni as memories started to weigh heavy on the mom. This created a unique hybrid of fiction and documentary in the co-production between Tunisia, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia.  

Ben Hania said: “I needed actresses in the movie directed by the real character so we could summon the past and have access to their trauma.

“It’s Olfa who gave me the idea because she’s a huge fan of Hend Sabri, so I thought it would be very interesting to ask Hend to play Olfa and be directed by her.

“The shooting was very intense because it’s a real story. It’s not an easy life. So, it was very intense, but also it was funny, because they are really funny.

“Their way to cope with this tragedy is to laugh about it, which was really amazing, so we were laughing and crying,” she added.

Naomi Campbell stuns at Red Sea film premiere of ‘The Absence of Eden’

Naomi Campbell stuns at Red Sea film premiere of ‘The Absence of Eden’
Updated 03 December 2023

Naomi Campbell stuns at Red Sea film premiere of ‘The Absence of Eden’

Naomi Campbell stuns at Red Sea film premiere of ‘The Absence of Eden’

JEDDAH: British supermodel Naomi Campbell was among the many celebrities spotted on the red carpet at the MENA premiere of “The Absence of Eden,” on the third day of Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival.

“I love what Red Sea has become and that it’s growing and growing and growing. And it’s really amazing and phenomenal what the team and Mo (Al-Turki) and Jomana (Al-Rashid) have created,” said Campbell in a video posted on the RSIFF Instagram page.

Starring Marvel actress Zoe Saldana, best known for her role in “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Absence of Eden” marks the feature directing debut of her renowned artist husband Marco Perego. The duo was also spotted at the screening. Also gracing the red carpet was the film’s other star, Garrett Hedlund.

Hedlund plays an ICE agent struggling with the moral dilemmas of his job who unites with an undocumented woman fighting to escape a ruthless cartel, played by Saldana, to save the life of an innocent girl.

The Red Sea festival runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9 and boasts 11 categories of films.  

This year’s celebrity-studded festival jury is presided over by director Baz Luhrmann, joined by Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman (“Suicide Squad”); Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”); Egyptian actor Amina Khalil (“Grand Hotel”) and Spain’s Paz Vega (“Sex and Lucia,” “The OA”).  

The festival began with a gala screening of Dubai-based Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri’s “HWJN,” modelled on a YA novel by Saudi writer Ibraheem Abbas. Set in modern-day Jeddah, “HWJN” follows the story of a kind-hearted jinn — an invisible entity in Islamic tradition — as he discovers the truth about his royal lineage.

Lebanese actress Njeim spoke to Arab News on the red carpet, saying: “The festival marks a turning point for every ambitious Saudi filmmaker, providing excellent support for young talents to showcase their work at international festivals.”

Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 

Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 
Updated 03 December 2023

Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 

Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 
  • The Tunisian filmmaker and actor’s latest feature was shot in Saudi Arabia, but will ‘resonate anywhere’ 

DUBAI: There are two things that cinema can do better than any other form of artistic expression. First, it allows us to immerse ourselves in parts of the world we’ve never seen, and second, it empowers us to empathize with people we’ve never met. Tunisian megastar Dhafer L’Abidine’s lyrical directorial effort “To My Son,” which will hold its world premiere on December 3 at the Red Sea International Film Festival, excels at both. After scoring a huge global distribution deal the night the fest began, it is now poised to introduce the world to a part of Saudi Arabia never before immortalized on the big screen.  

For L’Abidine, a cross-cultural performer who has long been one of Arab film and television’s most beloved stars, the Saudi-set film is a “love letter” to a country that has fully embraced him. It also marks a welcome return to a festival that helped launched the now-thriving next phase of his career, after his debut feature, the unforgettable politically-charged drama “Ghodwa,” screened to great acclaim at RSIFF 2021.  

But while his last film was a deeply personal exploration of his home country’s political landscape in the wake of the 2011 Tunisian Revolution, “To My Son,” in which he also stars as a British-Saudi father named Feisal, is a leap outside of his lived experience — which has filled the 51-year-old with a range of emotions ahead of the film’s premiere. 

“I’m thrilled to debut ‘To My Son’ in Jeddah. It’s exciting to share this story with this amazing community, a film that aims to capture humanity as well as the beauty of this astounding place. But there’s also a bit of excited nervousness, to be honest, because it’s so different from anything I’ve attempted before,” L’Abidine tells Arab News. 

Tunisian megastar Dhafer L’Abidine in his debut feature ‘Ghodwa,’ which screened at RSIFF in 2021. (Supplied)

“My last film was about Tunisia, it was an idea born from my own culture. But with this film, I’m exploring a place I’m still discovering even years after first coming here. That carries with it a huge responsibility, which I kept at the front in my mind while making it. I knew that I had to do right by this place, these people, and this culture. It’s always challenging to step out of your comfort zone, but I’m always most attracted to making the choices that feel the least safe and easy, because that’s where I thrive,” he continues.  

The film is set primarily in the Abha, a lush, mountainous city in the southwest of the Kingdom that is beloved by Saudis but largely unknown to an international community that has only just begun to explore the country. L’Abidine first found himself there three years ago filming a hit MBC series and was amazed by the place.  

“I really didn’t know what I was in for. You have certain clichés in your head about Saudi Arabia, and then suddenly you find yourself in the middle of these huge green mountains, all with a very distinct quality to them, and so many historical places to discover. You feel really feel you’re somewhere unlike anywhere else in the world. After I left, I couldn’t get this place out of my head,” he explains.  

Dhafer L'Abidine on the set of ‘To My Son.’ (Supplied)

After the release of “Ghodwa,” L’Abidine was meeting with a producer friend, who was himself considering doing a film in Saudi Arabia. He and L’Abidine began to brainstorm, coming up with an idea that became the bones of the story that the film now explores — the story of a Saudi man living in London who, still mourning the death of his wife, decides to return with his son to the home he left 12 years ago. The man’s father, however, still resents him for having left the family, and refuses to accept him back into the fold.  

“As we sat there and explored the concept, it became clear we needed to really highlight that these are people from two different worlds. And Jeddah and Riyadh — as they’re so cosmopolitan and modern — couldn’t capture that difference. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this needs to be set in Abha.’ I was brought back to this place that I fell in love with that helped me see Saudi Arabia in a different way and I knew that would be valuable to this story, so I went away to write and it all developed from there,” says L’Abidine.  


While Abha helped inspire the story, what became more important to L’Abidine as he developed the film was that it not become a glorified travelogue or tourism campaign. The place, rather, had to serve as a character of sorts on its own, one that could help bring viewers deeper into the emotional journey of the people that live in it. And as he got further into his research of the place’s history, it he realized how universal their struggles really are.  

“Ultimately, this film is an exploration of the humanity that we all share within us, no matter where we’re from. They could be from Abha, Jeddah, Tunis, or Marrakesh. I wanted to make a film that would resonate anywhere, a film that shows that the struggles of the people of Abha — a place cinema has never taken us — are rooted in the same shared experiences that define us all as human beings. We all share stories like this, and the more we focus on that, the closer it brings us,” says L’Abidine.  

In zooming in on characters locked in the struggle between individual fulfillment and duty to family, and in exploring generational divides that require honest discussion in order to get to the heart of what divides them, L’Abidine soon realized this wasn’t just a story about Saudi Arabia, or Arab societies. It was a story about all of us, even himself.  

Quickly, it became clear to him that once again he was making a film about fathers and their children, this time at a period in his life when he is raising a 13-year-old daughter in London who is herself growing up in a world so different that which shaped him back in Tunisia. In the end, as much as he thought he was stepping outside of himself to find the truths of another culture, many of the answers were to be found in his own experience all along.  

“Storytelling is always personal, whether you intend it to be or not. There’s so much in our heads that we have to resolve. And in raising my daughter, there’s so many lessons I’ve had to learn, so much perspective I’ve gained,” says L’Abidine. “I wanted to explore that journey through the main character from both sides, because I think so many people can relate. We all share stories like this.” 

Johnny Depp praises Saudi Arabia’s emerging film landscape at the Red Sea International Film Festival

Johnny Depp praises Saudi Arabia’s emerging film landscape at the Red Sea International Film Festival
Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

Johnny Depp praises Saudi Arabia’s emerging film landscape at the Red Sea International Film Festival

Johnny Depp praises Saudi Arabia’s emerging film landscape at the Red Sea International Film Festival

JEDDAH: The ongoing Red Sea International Film Festival played host to Hollywood star Johnny Depp as he graced the MENA premiere of "Jeanne Du Barry," a French historical drama directed by French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn, who also stars in the film.

The festival's second day unfolded with the screening of this opulent portrayal of the life of Jeanne du Barry, a working-class courtesan, featuring Depp as French king Louis XV.

During the festival's third day, Depp expressed his admiration for RSIFF, praising the Kingdom for opening up various expressive and creative outlets, emphasizing on its thriving youth culture.

“I believe that what's happening here in in Saudi with regards to various sort of expressive outlets, creative outlets – art, cinema everything – is opening up sort of beautifully. I also think that since opening up, like giving more opportunity to anyone and everyone. What seems to be really thriving beautifully here is youth culture,” he said to Arab News.



Depp found inspiration in the festival's theme, "Your Story, Your Festival," believing it instills hope and confidence in aspiring filmmakers.

Reflecting on his previous visit to Saudi Arabia, where he attended the MDLBeast music festival, Depp said, “It was  like having some drape taken away from my eyes.”

He expressed enthusiasm about the expanding landscape of the filmmaking industry in the kingdom, praising its beauty, mystery, and rich history.

Depp told Arab News, “Just the idea of shooting the film here. It's so beautiful. And there's such mystery, there's so many beautiful vistas and visually stunning but the history… the history that's here is fascinating.”

“I would come here happily to make a film. The word artist is not one that I use for myself, but you can use it for filmmakers. And everybody seems to understand the artists’ lane,” he said.

The film takes audiences on a journey into the court of Louis XV, where the king becomes infatuated with Jeanne du Barry, a courtesan introduced by an ambitious count seeking royal favor. (Supplied)

The film takes audiences on a journey into the court of Louis XV, where the king becomes infatuated with Jeanne du Barry, a courtesan introduced by an ambitious count seeking royal favor.

Depp delivers a mesmerizing performance as Louis, displaying desiccated charisma, while Maïwenn expertly embodies Jeanne, a woman with wit, intellect, and ambitions of her own. The narrative unfolds into a genuinely devoted partnership, marked by real power, until Louis's demise leads to Jeanne's downfall.

In an interview with Arab News, filmmaker Maïwenn shared her deep connection with her character.

“I have spent years dedicating my time reading about her, all her memories, major events, famous sentences. I know everything by word," she told Arab News.

Maïwenn's dedication to the character spans 16 years, creating a film that she describes as a liberating experience, allowing her subconscious to roam freely.


Intrigued by the multifaceted nature of Louis XV, Depp delved into the intricacies of portraying a monarch who had to adapt to different roles within the royal court and on the international stage.


He said during the interview that it was a quite an unusual concept to play a role in French, and his immediate thought was that perhaps a French actor would be more fitting for the role, considering the context.

Despite initial reservations about playing a French character, especially in French, Depp embraced the challenge under Maïwenn's encouragement.



RSIFF extended post-production assistance for the historical drama, marking the foundation's inaugural venture into co-producing a French film. The movie celebrated its global debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

During the festival's opening night on Nov.30, Depp was in attendance alongside notable figures such as Will Smith, Michelle Williams, Diane Kruger, Maya Diab, Alessandra Ambrosio, Aseel Omran, and many others. It was a memorable and star-studded event.

The Red Sea International Film Festival continues to Dec. 9 and boasts 11 categories of films: Special Screenings; Red Sea: Competition; Red Sea: Shorts Competition; Festival Favorites; Arab Spectacular; International Spectacular; New Saudi/ New Cinema: Shorts; Red Sea: New Vision; Red Sea: Families and Children; Red Sea: Series and Red Sea: Treasures.