‘The Wasp’ Review: A Taut Drama Of Revenge And Childhood Scars – Tribeca Festival

Guillem Morales’ adaptation of Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play The Wasp is an unsettling drama-thriller that delves into the complexities of its characters with precision in a way that is chilling and engrossing. The film stars Naomie Harris, Natalie Dormer, and Dominic Allburn, each delivering powerful performances that elevate this story of revenge and unresolved childhood bullying.

The film opens with Heather (Naomie Harris) crying alone in a dreary park, a setting that perfectly encapsulates the somber tone of the narrative. The camera follows the sound of buzzing flies into her pristine kitchen, where a wasp hovers over the window. Heather traps the wasp under a glass, a metaphor for her own trapped and anxious state. She asks her indifferent husband, Simon (Dominic Allburn), if he’s called the exterminator about the wasp nest. It becomes clear that Heather is deeply unhappy and struggling to conceive, her detachment and unease palpable.

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The narrative flashes back to Heather’s childhood, revealing a disturbing encounter with her friend Carla (Natalie Dormer). In the woods, they come across a dying pigeon. Carla, displaying a shocking lack of empathy, smashes the pigeon’s head with a rock. This early display of violence hints at the dark paths both women will take.

Carla’s present-day life is chaotic and starkly different from Heather’s. Living in a cramped flat with three children and another on the way, Carla’s world is a far cry from Heather’s posh suburban existence. One night, she receives a mysterious text message, prompting her to leave home for a secretive encounter. The next day, she sits in the same park where Heather had been, counting the money she earned. Despite initially ignoring Heather’s messages, Carla eventually agrees to meet her, and this is where Heather’s real motive becomes clear: she wants Carla to kill her husband.

The Wasp is a study in contrasts—comedy and suspense, drama and horror. The characters’ mental instability is portrayed with a depth that makes their cavalier discussions about death and their pasts both psychotic and fascinating. The story explores themes of trauma, bullying, and the lifelong scars they leave. Heather and Carla’s interactions reveal how violence begets violence and how past resentments can fester, leading to explosive confrontations.

Morales’ direction shines through in his use of close-ups, making the film feel claustrophobic and intimate. The camera work is steady and smooth, presenting a crisp and vibrant vision of England that contrasts with the drabness of Heather’s internal world. The production design is meticulous, particularly in Heather’s home, which is both pristine and unsettling. Everything is perfectly placed, yet the bright and lush colors do nothing to mask the underlying dread. It feels very much like a stage play brought to life, with dynamic blocking and interaction.

There’s a particular scene of Heather and Carla having a conversation while walking for several blocks, and the quick pace of their dialogue and the urgency of their movements create a sense of immediacy and tension. The Wasp is heavy on exposition, but the acting is so engaging, it never feels like a chore. Naomie Harris delivers a career-defining performance as Heather, capturing her character’s fragility and hidden fierceness. If she doesn’t already have a place among Hollywood’s A-list, this film should secure it. Natalie Dormer, too, is outstanding. She brings a raw intensity to Carla, making her both sympathetic and terrifying. Their chemistry is electric, driving the film’s emotional center.

Carla’s jealousy of Heather’s affluent background adds a layer of socio-economic commentary. Additionally, the racial implications of the story’s optics, especially given Heather’s ultimate plan, all feels unexamined, creating a missed opportunity to address these layers more thoughtfully. This is further exacerbated by the predictable conclusion that undermines the tension built throughout the story, and the anticipated subversion never materializes. The idea that one character triumphs over the other, leaving the audience to witness the ensuing violence, feels anticlimactic. It’s a disappointing resolution that doesn’t provide the catharsis the buildup promised.

The Wasp is an intense film that showcases the talents of its cast and director. It’s a journey into the dark recesses of the human psyche, and leaves a lasting impression. While the ending may not satisfy all viewers, the film’s exploration of trauma and mental illness is both compelling and important.

Title: The Wasp
Festival: Tribeca (Spotlight Narrative)
Directors: Guillem Morales
Cast: Naomie Harris, Natalie Dormer, Dominic Allburn
Distributor: Shout Studios!
Running time: 1 hr 36 mins

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