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The Overlooked Early Ella Purnell Movie That Has 92% on Rotten Tomatoes

Content Warning: The article below contains mentions of abuse and sexual assault.

The Big Picture

  • Before Ella Purnell stunned audiences with her role as Lucy MacLean in
    she gave a gripping and underrated performance in 2014’s
  • Appearing opposite Bruce Greenwood, Purnell plays a teenager on the run who decides to backpack across Alaska with Greenwood’s character.
  • Since
    Purnell has played several characters who grappled with significant loss and end up changed after an emotional journey.

Fallout took the world by storm, particularly regarding Ella Purnell‘s performance as Lucy MacLean. While it’s the latest in a rush of genre roles for Purnell, one of her finest roles was in the 2014 independent film Wildlike. This emotionally stirring drama was one of Purnell’s first leading roles, putting her dramatic talents on full display. But what exactly makes Wildlike such a gripping watch? Written and directed by Frank Hall Green, Wildlike centers on teenager MacKenzie (Purnell), whose life is falling apart. Her father recently died and her mother was hospitalized, leaving her to stay with her uncle (Brian Geraghty) in Alaska. Things take a turn for the worse when MacKenzie is molested by her uncle, causing her to go on the run. She ends up hiding out in a hotel room, which is being rented by Rene ‘Bart’ Bartlett (Bruce Greenwood). MacKenzie and Bart wind up backpacking across Alaska for entirely different reasons – Bart is visiting Alaska to honor the memory of his wife after she succumbed to cancer, while MacKenzie wants to return home to Seattle and reunite with her mother. During the journey, the two start to confide in each other while MacKenzie grapples with what happened to her and her inevitable trauma.

Wildlike poster


After conditions in her new home become unbearable, a teenage girl runs away and befriends an older man preparing for a hike through the Alaskan wilderness.

Ella Purnell, Bruce Greenwood

Frank Hall Green

Release Date
September 25, 2015

Run Time
104 mins


‘Wildlike’ Is Built on the Strength of Ella Purnell’s Performance

Wildlike stands out from the usual independent teen drama in a few ways. Chief among them was the fact that Green shot entirely on location in Alaska; this resulted in plenty of stunning shots of snow-covered mountains and lush green forests. But Purnell’s performance as MacKenzie is the major draw, holding her own against a seasoned performer like Greenwood. Throughout Wildlife‘s runtime, she’s fairly quiet, letting her facial expressions and body language do most of her speaking. She starts to loosen up halfway around the film, and her evasive nature peels away – revealing a girl that’s struggling with the fact that her family is slowly disintegrating. Things finally boil over when Bart confronts her after she runs away, and MacKenzie screams, “You have no idea what I’m going through! You think you do, but you don’t.” Purnell’s words are laced with raw anger and hurt, and it’s enough to crack the hardest of hearts.


Ella Purnell Thought This Was Essential to Her Career; She Doesn’t Anymore

Purnell revisits her journey from ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ to ‘Fallout’ on Collider Ladies Night!

Purnell also has a unique chemistry with Greenwood, since they both play emotionally wounded characters. But where Purnell chooses to be closed off as MacKenzie, Greenwood, in a layered performance, is a bit more sarcastic and blunt. When they first start camping, he gives her a straightforward set of camping rules, including a curt reply of “I don’t roast marshmallows.” But he also delivers a key piece of advice in the process: “Don’t run off.” This is a recurring theme throughout Wildlike as MacKenzie often runs off without thinking things through. Though she’s trying to get away from her uncle, she still has her cell phone –

allowing him to contact her. She also doesn’t have enough money to stay in a hotel or get on a plane to Seattle, leading to her sneaking into hotels or cars for shelter. At the end of Wildlife, MacKenzie learns that she has to face her own problems – especially when Bart gives her a heartwarming talk after her uncle nearly finds her.

Ella Purnell Keeps Bringing Emotional Weight to Her Roles

Wildlike proved to be a template for Purnell’s future roles, as she continues to play young women who grapple with emotional loss. Most of her characters also embark on a journey to get back what they lost. Army of the Dead‘s Kate Ward has to reconcile with her father, Scott (Dave Bautista) after he kills her zombified mother, while Arcane’s Jinx is shaped by her opposition to her sister Vi (Hailee Steinfeld). It’s her role as Lucy in Fallout that is most similar to her performance in Wildlike. Like MacKenzie, Lucy is dealing with a disintegrating family: her mother died at a young age and her father (Kyle MacLachlan) is kidnapped. This leads Lucy to venture out into the surface world, where, much like MacKenzie, she ends up traveling with an unlikely companion; Howard Cooper (Walton Goggins), who became a Ghoul after the nuclear fallout. While there are many differences between Fallout and Wildlike – the former does take place in the apocalypse, not to mention it’s loaded with black humor and violence – they feature a young woman who ends up changing her outlook on life after a journey through an unfamiliar land.

Wildlikereceived glowing reviews, and currently sits at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Most of the praise comes from the way the film handles its subject matter, which it does with respect. It also earned Purnell plenty of praise, as critics lauded her performance and her interactions with Greenwood. Fans of Fallout or any of Purnell’s genre roles will definitely want to watch Wildlike, as it’s a great display of her talents while also providing the roadmap to her future roles.

Wildlike is available to stream on Prime Video in the U.S.


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