Wake is the auspicious directorial debut for Chad Feehan, who also wrote and produced this truly independent film. His name may not be that familiar to my readers but his previous production credit certainly is -- Feehan backed All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which was one of my Top Picks from the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Thousands of words have been written on this blog about it as I've followed the roller coaster of its making and distribution. His track record is one reason I was drawn to Wake. The others were the talented ensemble cast and film's genre, closer to my heart than any other - but I can't reveal just what that is.
Readers of this blog know that I'm a stickler for not posting spoilers. In the case of most films this is a fairly straightforward task. A short plot summary is usually sufficient with a brief description of each character. Beyond that it's a judgment call. In most cases summarizing the essentials in a few lines is good enough.
At times, though, a film comes along that presents a unique challenge. It's a dilemma presented by those rare movies that simply defy explanation even in a few words without giving too much away. Wake is one of those movies.
The film opens with Paul (Josh Stewart) and his girlfriend Adrienne (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) practicing some extracurricular activity in their car. With a long drive from Texas to the wedding they're to attend in Los Angeles, they decide to get some much needed shuteye, and Roy's Motel looks like the perfect respite on this dusty road. Of course, not everything is as it seems, and the ensuing terror and haunting mystery play out in eerie Hitchcockian fashion with some mind-bending twists that kept me on my toes throughout. But that's as much as I'll say.
As is de rigeur in a film set in a single location, the motel is a character unto itself, and that owes much to the film's clever style. The lighting is just a step above the typical indie look without pushing into Hollywood territory. Production values are surprisingly but pleasantly polished. Daniel Licht's score is never overpowering. The use of melodramatic and haunting music is a quality often necessary in horror but needed to be downplayed here to bring out the subtleties of the story, and there are many.
Cinematograper Jason Blount's careful attention to constant motion along with well-timed cuts from editor Michael Griffin keep the film one step ahead of the viewer's recognition that this is all taking place in just one location, giving Wake the illusion of a movie on a grander scale. All that was needed was this authentic Route 66 motel, a mere shell when first discovered by Feehan. The design team fitted it with non-specific period decor in a dull palette of blues and greens against black. The visual discomfort is almost palpable.
Josh Stewart and Jamie-Lynn Sigler both possess a dichotomy of aggressiveness and vulnerability that complement or conflict in turn. It is the perfectly timed balance of those emotions which carries the story forward. Three other characters lead the ensemble cast. Chris Browning (Frank) runs the motel and Sandy (Angela Featherstone) is his lover. Browning is frightening yet sympathetic, a peculiar quality which he so elegantly pulls off here. Featherstone is ever-changing in mood as well. The interplay between the two is key, played out in similar fashion to Stewart and Sigler. Then there's the dominating presence of Afemo Omilami, known simply as "The Man." He steals every scene he's in, and his performance stays with the viewer. Trevor Morgan, Christopher Gessner, Robert Maxhimer, Jeannetta Arnette, and Grainger Hines are all standouts in support.
Putting a unique spin on the classic motel psychological thriller, Chad Feehan deftly weaves a tale that wowed me not just for its originality but also because it's evocative of so many of my favorite films. What those titles are will become apparent by the end credits. For now, they will have to remain hidden, just like the secrets carried by the guests at Roy's Motel.
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