Wasp is an incredibly vivid drama depicting one afternoon and evening in the life of a British single mother and her four children. Andrea Arnold’s 25-minute film isn’t much fun to watch, partly because its verite style is so effective that it plays like a documentary, and partly because the events contained in the movie are so painful. The characters occupy very nearly the lowest rung of urban British life, so they spend the movie fending off starvation; at one point, one of the older children feeds her infant sibling by dipping his pacifier in sugar and calling that a meal. Concurrently, the matriarch is such a mess that she all but abandons her children outside a rowdy pub, then spends her last time on booze because she’s desperate to woo a prospective suitor.
All of these elements should congeal into something powerful, but there’s the small matter of Wasp lacking any real story. Even that, though, wouldn’t be a problem if it seemed Arnold’s aspiration was to present after a few telling vignettes. But it seems as if she’s trying to tell a tale. (The suitor, for instance, is integrated into every stage of the movie, just like a character in a proper story.) Wasp has several moments of great power, but it never develops a head of steam.