ALL THE WILDERNESS is the debut feature from Portland-native writer/director Michael Johnson, whose film pays melancholic tribute to the city. Centered on an offbeat teenager who's simultaneously struggling with loss and discovering a world beyond the Southwest hills, Portland's presence is tied to every beat of Wilderness' moods. It makes for a lovely sight, even in a film that ducks its own ambitions.
Wilderness lavishes as much muted reverence on the strung lights of illegal Southeast industrial living quarters as it does the Vista Bridge. Its story revolves around James (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whose mother (Virginia Madsen) worries because he draws portraits of dead crows and seems able to predict the death of his hamster. She makes him see a shrink (a brief Danny DeVito), who is either very good or very bad, spending most of their sessions preoccupied with wood whittling.
Meanwhile, James sneaks out to walk the streets, where he meets Harmon (Evan Ross), a confident, displaced kid who introduces him to indoor skateboard ramps, warehouse shows, and beer runs. There's also a girl he likes (Isabelle Fuhrman) who, natch, sees DeVito too, and, natch again, works at Voodoo Doughnut.
Early on, James appears haunted: Hooded figures leap over MAX trains and sprint across rooftops, egging on the notion that at any minute Wilderness might take a plunge and become weirder than it ultimately gets. The end result is poised, if relatively prosaic—but it demonstrates Johnson's ability to create a tableau of mystery and beauty. Hopefully next time he'll go somewhere stranger with it.