Heart of Wilderness (2015) — Image via mspfilmsociety.org

Heart of Wilderness

Directed by Towle Neu (2015)

Narratives of both success and failure abound in cinema. Less common are narratives of that murky mix of both that is so often the outcome of one’s efforts in real life. Heart of Wilderness, the feature directing debut of Minneapolis-based filmmaker Towle Neu, is one such narrative. When the film’s protagonist, Travis Wallien (Patrick Mulvey), makes a dramatic play to turn his life and his marriage around, with a retreat to the wilderness as his intended segue to something new and better, we are conditioned to expect either a hard-won victory or a bitter defeat. But life is rarely that clear-cut, and neither is Neu’s film.

Heart of Wilderness (2015) — Image via heartofwilderness.com30-something Travis lives in a small, economically depressed town in rural Minnesota with his wife Aimee (Sarah Prikryl) and their young daughter Britt. Travis, a former wilderness guide who now puts up drywall to pay the bills, is clearly frustrated by what he sees as his dead-end life. Aimee, on the other hand, seems to have resigned herself to her current state, partially through an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. In the film’s opening scenes, an ambiguous series of events leaves Travis with a bag of drug money that nobody knows he has. As it turns out, Britt is away on an RV tour of the Dakotas with Aimee’s parents, and Travis, paranoid about the money and eager to get out of town, takes the opportunity to convince Aimee that the two of them should spend a few days canoeing the Boundary Waters.

Heart of Wilderness (2015) — Image via heartofwilderness.comTravis has a pretty long list of things he’s hoping to accomplish on this trip. It’s his opportunity not only to escape the heat and erase all evidence of his involvement in the ill-fated drug deal but also to rekindle his relationship with Aimee, tell her about the money, convince her that they should use it to start a new life for themselves and Britt, and coax out some of her own secrets that he intuits she’s been keeping. More broadly, by journeying to the place where he used to guide travelers through the treacherous waters, he seeks to return to a time in his life when he felt that he was in control of his fate.

Heart of Wilderness (2015) — Image via heartofwilderness.comIt’s a tall order, and it’s no surprise when things don’t go exactly as Travis had planned. Still, he sticks to his guns and is not left empty-handed either. By the end of the film, there is much that has been left unsaid (these characters are Minnesotans, after all), but it is fair to say that Aimee has gotten a clearer sense of who Travis is and may even have learned to accept him for it. Whether Travis learns anything about Aimee is less clear, but he is, at least temporarily, forced to come face to face with himself, and that’s something.

Heart of Wilderness is a low-budget film, and there are times when it shows, especially in the early scenes indoors, in which the dialogue is sometimes hard to make out. But on the whole, the film is well-made and thoughtful. It certainly makes good use of its primary location (technically just outside the Boundary Waters per se), and Mulvey and Prikryl turn in strong, sympathetic portrayals of two characters who definitely both have their dark sides. After making it into the Best of Fest lineup in the Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival, Heart of Wilderness should gain an opportunity to expand its local audience through some additional Twin Cities-area screenings.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.