A young couple heads to the mountains to enjoy a romantic camping trip, complete with verdant meadows and heart-shaped clouds.
But when a hiking pole falls down a scenic cliff where the couple was grabbing a selfie, the pole kills a cute little forest rodent, to the heartbreak of its loved one. Vowing revenge, the animals band together to exact brutal revenge on the humans who have dared trespass on their natural habitat.
This Oscar-longlisted short — directed by Maryka Laudet and Quentin Camus, and co-directed by Paul Antric, Lea Georges, Zoe Sottiaux and Corentin Yvergniaux — begins with a charming, colorful and idyllic sequence of two hikers in love, enjoying nature and one another. It’s sweet and romantic — until a pole falls down a cliff they’re climbing, impaling a poor little groundhog below in a gruesome death.
The juxtaposition of bright whimsy with the macabre is the first clue that this short is no mere children’s cartoon. It may be called “Wild Love,” but the storytelling is truly a wild ride, segueing from romantic comedy into a dark horror tale of violence, mayhem and revenge. The visual imagination is dextrous and detail-oriented: the character and world design are both cute but increasingly creepy, whether it’s in the moodiness of encroaching evening haze or the growing martial-like bloodthirstiness of the forest’s rodents, which have banded together to exact revenge on the hikers.
The pacing and editing also know how to build sequences of tension, with brisk pacing that keeps the audience entertained and wondering what happens next. As the action propels forward, it achieves the tautness and tension of a climax straight out of a horror film — complete with a corpse puppet, a showdown and a grisly end.
Created via the same initiative that paired French animation school Ecole de Nouvelles Images with French animation collective MegaComputeur — which also resulted in last year’s Oscar-nominated Hors Piste — “Wild Love” is a thrill-filled romp that relies on a good amount of cinematic shock-and-awe — though much of the shock is in how far it’s willing to push at the cultural trope of the “cute animal,” one that powers the sharing of millions of videos, memes and social media accounts devoted to adorable critters.
But perhaps there’s a wary lesson for us humans, who have never quite been able to subdue the collective desire to dominate nature, whether it’s through brute force or the condescension of cuteness, however well-intended or seemingly benign. In a state of peace and rest, nature is beautiful, but it’s not just a backdrop for a selfie. When disturbed or damaged by human presence, the earth can marshal considerable resources — okay, maybe usually not in the form of an army of vengeful critters — in a reaction that’s pitiless against the people causing the problem to begin with.