PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'Wetlands': Grossing Out and Coming of Age Now

Wetlands is both sweet if off-kilter love story and a movie full of stomach-churning material. Think of a substance you might find unpleasant, and you can probably find it here.


Director: David Wnendt
Cast: Carla Juri, Axel Milberg, Meret Becker, Christoph Letkowski, Marlen Kruse
Rated: NR
Year: 2013
US date: 2014-09-05 (Limited release)
Official site

Wetlands arrives in US theaters following its North American debut last January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it quickly became notorious for its envelope-pushing, boundary-annihilating "most WTF, NSFW" grossness. as its poster advertises. True to the hype, Wetlands opens with its teenage heroine Helen (Carla Juri) skateboarding barefoot down the street, discussing her hemorrhoid problem before wading barefoot into a partially flooded public restroom and explaining her complete disinterest in matters of vaginal hygiene. In spite of this apparent daring, however, the film offers more talk and implication than anything the audience sees in great detail. After Helen suffers an unfortunate shaving accident that leaves her hospitalized with a severe anal fissure, the initial scene's shock value fades and Wetlands seems about to settle into a sweet if off-kilter love story.

But it's this assumption on our part that allows the movie to continue to shock… and awe, in its way. The opening transgressions are not just attention-grabbers. Gross things keep happening in Wetlands. Some of the most graphic and/or stomach-churning material arrives in its second half. Think of a substance you might find unpleasant, and you can probably find it in this movie.

Yet Wetlands does manage to become a sweet, if off-kilter, love story too. This takes the shape of Helen's rambunctious first 17 years or so, which makes the film a coming-of-age movie set free from familiar trappings. From the home base of a hospital room, whose sterility provides stark contrast to the intentional messiness of her life, Helen hopscotches around anecdotes. She remembers her relationships with her mother (Meret Becker) and father (Axel Milberg), who divorced when she was a child; the day she met her best friend and "blood sister" Corinna (Marlen Kruse); a teenage drug binge; and her experiments with sexuality. Back in the hospital, she flirts, aggressively and sometimes brattily, with her nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski).

Wetlands takes a tapestry approach to this material, with some of its squares more detailed than others. Helen's relationship with Corinna is underdeveloped, and the movie never explains why Corinna becomes such an enthusiastic partner to Helen, willing to go to the same extremes. Helen's own psychology, meanwhile, sometimes feels a little too easily attributed to her relationship with her mother: the daughter rebels against her mother's OCD-level cleanliness, her insistence that Helen scrub herself and everything around her clean, even as a child. Even her budding relationship with Robin lacks the give and take of a truly memorable romance.

But Helen herself is a wonderful creation, played with a winning insouciance by Juri, who resembles a halfway point between Greta Gerwig and a young Molly Ringwald. Wetlands doesn't have much to do with punk rock culture (though it does make use of some clever music cues, punk and not, English and not), but there's something undeniably punk in Juri's performance, something tough, charismatic, self-aware, and often hilarious. Juri is a bit older than her character, but she makes a convincing teenager because she embodies a restless, searching intelligence.

Though Juri is terrific, sometimes to the point of dominating the other, less fleshed-out performances, Wetlands isn't a one-woman show. Director David Wnendt extends Helen's point of view into the style of the film. The movie's bright colors, extreme close-ups, wild POV shots, and drug-hit cuts recall music videos and their influences on movies like Run Lola Run or early Danny Boyle. Wetlands' stylish delivery of its grossest moments gives the jolts, and Helen, greater dimension, so these moments are as much about their own audacity and point of view as the off-putting content. Helen and the movie are looking for a reaction—from parents, from Robin, from the audience—but their aggressions have an honest, even exhilarating quality that transcends mere acting out. Wetlands is self-consciously explicit and will be hard to watch for some. But it never feels less than sincere.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.