Black Wake: A Long Awaited Review

It’s always difficult reviewing a movie, book, music, etc of a friend or an acquaintance. You truly hope it doesn’t suck as much for your sake as theirs. After all, who likes to tell people that matter their work is subpar. With Black Wake, I’ve become friends with the director, Jeremiah Kipp through his appearances on the podcast, as well as through Facebook.  Jerry Janda the writer, has become someone I admire greatly, and we’ve done our own podcast as well. He was the first person to read my book Life in Amber, and I actually read an early version of the script for Black Wake before it even went into production. I’m Facebook friends with several of the actors in the movie, not to mention my cohort on  Imaginarium Todd Staruch has a cameo, as does Tom Ryan, the Faces director.

Fortunately, I don’t have to worry as Black Wake is a fun little movie, that has ideas far bigger than the budget allowed, and does the best it can, which is  actually quite a bit. It’s hard to categorize Black Wake. It’s found footage, but doesn’t always feel that way. It’s part sci-fi with definite horrific elements. It’s kind of a zombie movie but not really. There are traces of The Thing, but only fleeting glimpses. It’s definitely steeped in Lovecraft (including an homage to the man himself when someone is drawing him in a mural on the wall).  Mostly, Black Wake is its own thing. Rather than simply copying the tropes mentioned, BW uses them as a starting point, and in Kipp’s sure hand, mixes them into something familiar, but uncomfortable.

Most of the movie is seen through the eyes of two government agents who are following a woman around, for unknown reasons, and we also see substantial parts from her point of view. It’s to Kipp’s and Janda’s credit, that they’re able to keep things close to the vest and keep you wondering what the hell is going on. While it can be a bit confusing at times if you don’t pay attention, information is repeated enough that you quickly get back on track.

Nana Gouvea plays the woman being tracked, and she does a great job going from someone who is seemingly rational to utter batshit crazy by the end of the film. It’s a role that could have easily been overplayed, but Nouvea’s Dr. Moreira is very restrained, and pitch perfect. Two of my other favorite performances were by Kelly Rae LeGault as the “specimen”, and Johnny Beauchamp as the homeless man who is the catalyst for everything that transpires. LeGault is fun to watch, combining creepy and appealing. Her scene where she runs into a car full of bros is one of BW’s strongest scenes, due to her performance. Beauchamp’s character is a far cry from Angelique in Penny Dreadful and shows exactly the range of emotion he can portray. When pieces fall into place, his character is truly heartbreaking.

There are several other names in blink and you’ll miss them roles including Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, Vincent Pastore, and Chuck Zito among others. They all bring a legitimacy and believability to the movie that might otherwise not be there.

Unfortunately the rest of the acting is hit or miss. The two actors playing the Google Glass wearing government agents are a weak point. Their lack of emotion is one thing, but they also come across as automatons, and aren’t really believable in their roles. Uneven performances aside, there are some issues with the story that keep it from being all it could have been. It wants to tell a story about mind parasites but doesn’t trust itself enough, so it becomes a pseudo-zombie flick which dumbs it down a bit.

The effects are great as is most of the CGI. The blood you see is mostly a black ink which keeps things from being as graphic as they could have been. There’s also a completely gratuitous sex scene/kill scene that adds absolutely nothing to the story except a few minutes padding. Which brings up my biggest annoyance: the running time. Billed at 90 minutes, it’s actually closer to 78, as the last 12 minutes are the credits intermixed with bloopers/cut footage. I don’t mind that necessarily, but here it feels like it’s hiding how short it is.

Beyond all that, BW is really a good time, and a great way to spend part of a Friday night. BW is creepy, effective, and in spite of its limitations, lots of fun.