Director Emma Catalfamo’s On the Fringe of Wild takes us to a small town in northern Ontario just after the turn of the millennium. The teens in the unnamed city live in a bubble, where everyone knows the private affairs of everyone else. Mostly the people are boring, suffering the usual problems one would expect during a long, dark winter in a remote town with alcoholism and drug addiction running rampant.
Peter (Harrison Browne) is a quiet, LGBTQIA+ person who wants to be left alone to his sketches while dreaming of going to art school and leaving town. Unfortunately, Miles (Mikael Melo), who is also gay, bi, or possibly confused, constantly bullies him. Miles has a crush on Jack (Cameron Stewart) and teases that they will be lovers. However, Miles has a girlfriend, Candace (Andrea Pavlovic), who he also teases about sex.
Peter comes out to his father, Nathan (Andrew Bee), who is having none of it. His response is to drag Peter into the forest for a manly spell of hunting and roughing it at a cabin. The stated goal of this hyper-masculine weekend is that Peter will declare himself a rugged heterosexual and then find a nice girl. But, of course, Peter is uninterested.
“Peter is instantly taken with Jack, and they strike up a new romance.”
While out on this adventure, Peter runs away into the snowy woods and almost freezes to death. But Jack finds and brings Peter back to his cabin. Peter is instantly taken with Jack, and they strike up a new romance. Where Peter’s father is disgusted with his homosexuality, he is not physically abusive. On the other hand, Jack’s father, Harry (Adam Jenner), is a violent alcoholic. Jack is firmly convinced that his father killed his mother and fears for his life. The symbol of Peter’s gentle spirit is a white rabbit, and both Peter and Jack are pressed by their fathers to kill the metaphorical animal more than once.
The Canadian backwoods make a perfect setting for On the Fringe of Wild. Its story plays like a folktale by the Brothers Grimm. The characters aren’t fleshed out in enough detail to be more than archetypes painted in broad strokes. Rather, they represent aspects of people struggling with realities like having a gay son, battling alcoholism, or dealing with death. All the points are well made in this ambitious, low-budget independent production.
The cinematography is simple, but the acting elevates the feature into a parable for youth dealing with various modes of relationships and sexuality. The lesson is one that, like all fables, has been repeated in films like The Dead Poet’s Society to hammer the point home. It’s not too far off base to see a reference to Romeo and Juliet, both in the story and the theatrical style Catalfamo employs. It’s frustrating to watch Peter and Jack fight the social current where no one can accept who they are.
On the Fringe of Wild takes us to a place far from what we know, during a time that’s fading in our memories, to share a vivid tale of colorful lives in a grey, cold setting. Perfect fare as winter looms.
"…plays like a folktale by the Brothers Grimm."