Dormer and Harris in The Wasp

Tribeca 2024: The Wasp Incites a Swarming Sense of Discomfort

Hurt people hurt people. This common aphorism is the basis for Guillem Morales’ tense psychological thriller, The Wasp. A film set on understanding the human psyche as it relates to processing hurt, it offers chilling insights into what happens when the pain never subsides. Hurt is like grief in that it requires long periods for recovery. But does time actually heal all wounds? Or does it merely serve as an unhealthy gateway to release all the repressed emotional damage that was left to rankle?

Director Guillem Morales examines the cycle of hurting people under a microscope in his shocking revelation about the long-term effects of abuse. Written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, this taut film is adapted from her stage play of the same name. The tight script boasts a suspenseful atmosphere capable of leaving viewers distraught. With exceptional performances by Naomie Harris and Natalie Dormer, this relentlessly unsettling drama comes with unexpected bombshells masterfully placed to throw its viewers for a loop.

The Wasp uses sight and sound to usher in an ambiance of tension and dismay.

The film begins with an upset Heather (Harris) sitting alone in a park with tears rolling down her face. Soon after, we learn that Heather and her husband Simon’s (Dominic Allburn) latest attempt to conceive a child has failed. With just this opening sequence, Morales sets the stage for the dismal journey to come. Back at home in the couple’s kitchen, an annoying buzzing sound persists until the camera reveals a line of dead wasps near the window seal. Heather has been trapping the pests until her husband makes do on his promise to call the exterminator to eliminate the wasp nest. Another example of Morales’ skill as a director, this scene effectively represents the suffocating marriage in which Simon and Heather find themselves. The result is a growing claustrophobic ambiance that accelerates the tension.

This relentlessly unsettling drama comes with unexpected bombshells masterfully placed to throw its viewers for a loop.

Under the spell of persistent misery, Heather finally decides to take action by calling her estranged friend Carla (Natalie Dormer). Carla’s childhood behaviour makes her the best candidate to rid Heather of her husband. In a flashback sequence, a young Carla kills an injured bird with a rock in order to end its suffering. A young Heather (Leah Mondesir-Simmonds) looks on, panic-stricken and frozen in time as she witnesses her friend handle it all with ease. Though it takes some strong convincing with a big payment on the side, Carla finally agrees to assist Heather, and the two eventually meet again to plot the details of Simon’s unfortunate demise.

Harris and Dormer’s performances will leave lasting impressions.

A twisty and disturbing script in disposition, The Wasp takes a sudden shift in tone when Heather and Carla begin to finalize their plans to take down Simon. Like her stage play, Malcolm works in cunning details to represent the fluctuating power dynamics among our two female leads. With this, Morales incorporates frequent flashbacks to visually support this unpredictable transformation and to also provide historical context for Heather and Carla’s current emotional states. The result is a fascinating tit-for-tat, as the ladies mask their impending deceit under a volley of insults. We, as viewers, are left with a swarm of discomfort thanks to the anxiety-inducing sequences to follow.

Just as the film makes it transition from a standard thriller to a drama with a surplus of twists and turns, the characters begin to embrace the unhinged turn of events. In particular, Heather finally reveals her cards, giving rise to the script’s limitless intensity. In that regard, Harris shows her immense talent. From the opening sequence, she represents the ‘woman scorned’ trope with ease. And by the end, Harris’ sensational performance evolves to enable her to elaborate the many faces of hurt with brilliant execution. Dormer’s Carla is the perfect opposite of Heather. Though her character is less emotional, Dormer is steadfast in masking pain, while finding opportunities to explode where necessary.

With an overwhelming sense of urgency, The Wasp concludes rather quickly. Realistically, it symbolizes the dangers of letting trauma fester with no healthy method of release. But it may leave viewers unsatisfied with a sudden change of pace. Indeed, the final 30 minutes of the film are unforgiving with its ferocity. Malcolm and Morales understand that maintaining its compelling narrative and high levels of entertainment requires a full embrace of chaos. Still, the ultimate message is clear. An untreated, fragile mind can result in dire consequences for anyone standing in the way of healing or revenge.

The Wasp screened as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. For more reviews from this year’s fortnight of screenings, head here.