THE WAKE (2017)
Directed by Faouzi Brahimi and Bryan Brewer
To some extent, almost all horror films are about death in one way or another. Whether it’s the fear of it, its gradual inevitability or in some cases recovery from it. In this new collaboration, directors Faouzi Brahimi and Bryan Brewer (who also stars) address the guilt that can come from causing it.
The set-up is fairly promising, with the opening scenes hinting at a more dramatic horror than audiences may be used to. Amidst a spot of drink-driving, Tyler (Brewer) rans over young Zach Stevens. A few days later, and he’s attending the wake to pay his respects to the bereaved mother (Delgado). Backing him up are some friends, including his partner Casey (Rivera), who was also in the car that night, and the hot-headed Ben (Milliogan). However, one collapse later and this idea of this being a slow mediation on retribution is undermined. Our leads wake up tied to some chairs, and while the rope isn’t especially troubling, the man with a knife, whose face is masked by a sack, may be. As they creep through the oversized house it becomes increasingly likely the wake may lead to their own funerals. Cue lots of corridor walking and eventually some revelations all but the dimmest audience members will guess far in advance.
The brief but interesting first act gives way to a drawn out, and workman like, second where the movie feels like it’s struggling to justify the feature length. There are occasional moments of suspense throughout, even if it is largely generated by the creepy aesthetic of the killer than anything especially novel. Clearly the filmmakers are slaves to a low budget, so can’t wow with cutting edge special effects or much in the way of onscreen violence. Yet thankfully they manage to create a sense of threat, even if it’s largely sustained by the group making moronic decisions. However, it never really establishes a sense of its own identity, with much of the build up feeling like a completely generic slasher movie.
What’s worse, it rarely conveys a sense of urgency in the characters, meaning that what tension there is soon trails off. Much of this problem comes from an abundance of slow medium level shots and a lightweight soundtrack. However, it definitely isn’t helped by fairly flat performances across the board (Brewer being an exception). To be fair, they don’t have much to work with: our understanding of the characters is largely limited to a few explicit traits and a mostly damp romantic subplot. Simply put, they aren’t given much in the way of psychological depth, and as such it’s hard to feel especially invested in them even when they’re dying. Although props to the writers for having such a morally compromised lead – a bold decision in a movie that otherwise plays it safe.
The third act is more successful than the first two, with the tables repeatedly being flipped between the killer and our child killing protagonist. Here we get to see some engaging conflicts and audience loyalties are stretched. There is also a growing sense of dread as the characters figure out that they may be well out of their depth. Unfortunately, it all builds to a predictable climactic section, which bears more than a passing resemblance to much more popular horror film – the name of which I won’t spoil here. Coupled with the previously mentioned twist, that’s so obvious you can’t really call it one, and it fails to leave a strong impression. As such, come the end I suspect viewers will be entertained but won’t rush to show it to their friends or watch it again. As a result, you may soon find it buried at the bottom of your film pile.