Judge Christopher Kulik has always wondered what it would be like to wake up after being embalmed.
Meet Carys. She's a mourning person.
Have you ever walked into a video store and found a DVD suggesting something weird and unsettling? This was my initial impression when looking at the cover art for Wake, an indie drama with a bit more substance than you might expect. Barely released theatrically, the film makes its debut on DVD courtesy of E1 Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Carys (Bijou Phillips, Choke) has been miserable ever since her younger sister died unexpectedly. Instead of frequenting salons, she opts to get her hair and makeup done in funeral homes. Not sharing a particularly stimulating relationship with her roommate Lila (Marguerite Moreau, Beverly Hills Chihuahua), Carys' only real friend seems to be her "personal undertaker" Shane (Danny Masterson, Yes Man), who's been harboring a long time crush. However, she finds herself drawn to Tyler (Ian Somerhalder, Lost), when his young fiancée passes away. But will their union be compromised by a dark secret?
Wake is another one of those indie films dealing primarily with death, aspiring to be another Passed Away, Sunshine Cleaning, or The Last Word. It's touted as a quirky comedy, but the laughs are few and far between. In fact, the only real humor is provided by the wonderful Moreau; all other attempts fall flat. Wake may lean more towards a love story, but the chemistry between the two leads never generates any electricity. This doesn't mean Phillips and Somerhalder give mediocre performances, but their relationship tends to be wobbly and unconvincing. I can definitely see what screenwriter Lennox Wiseley was trying to accomplish, but her script never hits the bulls-eye.
Warts aside, Wake turns out to be surprisingly good. While it sounds depressing, the film treats its disturbing subject matter with the proper amount of delicacy. It may not leave a smile on your face, but it will keep your attention. Wiseley's script is a cut above the norm, even if sharp dialogue and character development is somewhat lacking. What's particularly refreshing is how unpredictable Wake is, even when it's inevitable that Carys' white lies will reach their breaking point. Strangely enough, the situations never become uncomfortable and we end up caring about where the story is going.
Director Ellie Kanner's background in casting helps a great deal. Bijou Phillips is a character actress who has never impressed me, but gives Carys a modest amount sincerity to balance her morbid fixations. Best known as "band-aid" Estrella Starr in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, Phillips has a firm hold on her character all the way through; ditto for Somerhalder as her love interest. Some of the scenes achieve a certain sweetness and eroticism, even when their attraction is questionable. A cameo by Jane Seymour (Live And Let Die) as Carys' mother is somewhat obligatory, and the rest of the cast (particularly the Moreau) do solid work.
Points should also be awarded to E1, who supplies an acceptable DVD. The 1.78:1 anamorphic print is generally clean, although some of the scenes come off as overly dark (which may have been intentional). Grain is practically nonexistent, and flesh tones are very good. The 5.1 surround track isn't anything to shout about, considering the film's dialogue-driven nature, but it gets the job done. An optional 2.0 stereo track and English SDH subtitles are also provided. The bonus features—a 16-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and an audio commentary—are light and engaging. The former is negligible, but the latter is offbeat, thanks to the contributions by Kanner, Wiseley, and producers Hal Schwartz and Bill Shraga. Being an independent production, the group gives aspiring filmmakers some valuable insight into the process.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite my praise, Wake is going to be a tough sell. It never really knows what it wants to be, thanks to sporadic shifts in tone; one moment could be amusing, the next inert. Be forewarned: it enters some dark territory, culminating in an ending which isn't altogether satisfying. The R-rating is perfectly appropriate, due to steamy sex scenes and profanity.
Don't be put off by the cover art. If you're looking something unusual, if not entirely fresh, then Wake is a reasonable rental.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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