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rochefort [Film Festival 03.24.10] movie review horror thriller mystery

Year: 2010
Directors: Chad Feehan
Writers: Chad Feehan
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 4 out of 10

When we first meet Paul (Josh Stewart) and his girlfriend Adrienne (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), they are on a road trip through the Mojave desert, headed to L.A. for the wedding of one of Paul's college buddies. After a driving scare they decide to pull over and stop at Roy's Motel and Cafe, and that's when the weirdness starts. They seem to be the only customers, night manager Frank (Chris Browning) inspires an odd sense of deja vu, and a strange man (Aferno Omilami) who confronts Paul in the cafe seems to know a lot more than he should about Paul's relationship troubles with Adrienne. It soon becomes apparent to Paul that the increasingly surreal events are indelibly linked to his dark past.

More often than not, it's not that big of a deal to keep a review spoiler-free, but every now and then you get a movie like "Wake", one that's almost impossible to describe in any real detail without ruining the twists and reveals. So this is the first warning: spoilers are inevitable. But before we get to those, know that "Wake" is the debut film from director Chad Feehan, who served as the producer on "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane", a festival favorite from 2006. He's put together a movie that features a nice little cast, some good cinematography, decent atmosphere, and so on. Leads Stewart and Sigler are appealing enough, and both Browning and Angela Featherstone turn in good performances as the meek motel manager and his estranged wife, respectively. If it sounds as if I'm damning with faint praise, it's because I kinda am. While competent in the technical departments and never deal-breakingly bad in any, we've seen this story so many times before (and better-done) that I can't help but wonder why its makers would think this a good choice for a breakout indie. It's the sort of movie that, even with big stars in each of the major roles, would be a modest success at best, and likely forgotten almost immediately.

The spoilers start here, folks.

I do the comparison game in a lot of reviews for the sake of quick clarity, not necessarily because I'm trying to knock a story down a peg by listing the others it may call to mind. But in the case of "Wake", the resemblances to two key films are just too glaringly apparent to ignore. This is an even mix of "Identity" and "Jacob's Ladder", and it is impossible to believe that those two films weren't discussed at length during "Wake"'s conception process. Both are solid movies, "Ladder" even achieving moments of greatness, and both hold up on repeated viewings almost solely for their atmosphere and well-staged suspense scenes rather than for any new insight about the twists upon which their plots hinge. I won't even get into further comparisons to ones like "The Sixth Sense" or "Stay", since those, like so many movies about limbo or the fleeting moments between death and the afterlife, exist mainly in the shadow of "Ladder" (which, admittedly, is itself a more horrific take on "It's a Wonderful Life"). The reason why this may spell doom for "Wake"'s future is because the first viewing so heavily relies on the likelihood that you won't put all the pieces together until the end. That won't be the case, however, and Feehan has made a big mistake in letting so much of the drama hinge on the reveal, for two reasons: the drama's not that good, and the twist isn't surprising. In fact, the only way "Wake" would have made much of an impact would be if it had been released over twenty years ago.

This would all be forgivably forgettable if not for one key scene, the one where we see just what it is that Paul did (at a frat party, no less) to require his stay in limbo. It involves a forced sex scene with Paul and another character, one that is so morally murky that it undermines every ounce of credibility left in the pic's already off-handedly-drawn rules. Getting this scene right was pretty much the only hope "Wake" might have at standing out from the pack, but it's massively botched, both in logic and execution, and saps away even the goodwill for the effective-enough production values. Whenever I walk out of a festival screening after seeing a movie like "Wake", which succeeds as neither a good drama that just happens to have genre elements nor a straightforward supernatural mystery, it just makes me wish more first-timers would stick to the basics. Let's crawl before walking, guys; tell a fresh story about a scary cabin in the woods.

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