Overview: After an uncommon shaving accident, Helen Memel spends days in the hospital recounting her adventures in the sexually taboo. Strand Releasing; 2014; Not Rated; 109 minutes.
Openly Filthy, Sexy, and Exciting: As someone who constantly complains about how movies treat violence with too little contempt, it’s refreshing to see a movie that is so open about fornication. Wetlands owns a chaotic energy that resembles elements of punk rock, and scenes are shot with a candy store-like fervor. An opening scene involving a dirty toilet seat in a public restroom (one to avoid if you’re a germaphobe), takes us immediately into the mind of our protagonist. The camera swoops from Helen Memel to the indigenous filthy life forms of a public toilet. Shortly after, Helen plants herself firmly on the seat, and begins cleaning it with herself. It’s a genuinely shocking scene, but it’s more than just an attempt at shocking the audience (though you’ll be in disbelief at some of Helen’s actions in the film). Shock cinema doesn’t really do much for me, and much like the character of Helen, this film’s shock value is in service of a greater cause.
Helen’s sexual exploits and special hygiene are more than juvenile attempts to get a rise out of the audience. The exploration of sexual fluid and secretion is part of who Helen is. Wetlands doesn’t glamorize these acts for us, it’s a glamorization of how Helen perceives the world. Her world is a sexual sandbox and she can’t wait to play with all her new toys. A gleeful – albeit, seemingly unsanitary – escape from reality. She uses her sexuality as a tool of rebellion.
Wetlands is nothing without the conceit of an actual purpose for Helen’s constant sexual experimentations; and her true motivation for her sexually experimental lifestyle stems from her relationship to her parents. Helen’s mother explained to her how difficult it is to keep a vagina clean, so she decides to turn herself into a living hygiene experiment. At a young age, Helen’s mother challenges her to a trust fall (Guess who decides not to play along?). Along with her mother’s “teachings,” Helen still has to deal with her father’s neglect. The film goes to lengths to make clear that Helen’s philosophies are a direct reaction to her parent’s inaction. But this is who she is. The movie doesn’t shame her for this, and neither should we.
Carla Juri: She gets her own section for this. It’s remarkable just how great she is in this role. Helen could just as easily come across as an attention seeking hedonist with a less endearing actress in the lead role. Juri’s bubbly demeanor is magnetic, pulling you in to one explicit endeavor after the next. There are zero chances of an Oscar nomination, but one could hope.
End Thoughts: Wetlands is more than just an attempt to shock audiences everywhere. It’s a study of one of 2014’s great cinematic characters. Carla Juri deserves awards recognition for her performance. There’s nothing else like it in theaters and there won’t be for some time.