When your life is intrinsically linked to death, what kind of life does it become? For some, it can be a livelihood, an inheritance, a reason to get up in the morning. For others, it is something to be rejected at all costs, unless it becomes a type of walking death itself. The characters who inhabit the world of The Wake, no matter where they fall on this spectrum, seem to be in limbo somewhere between the emotions of life and the coldness of death. Director/writer Luis Gerard, in directing his first short since 1998, delivers a strong piece, combining style and atmosphere with a succinct, engaging tale to showcase the experiences of two young boys facing an unwanted future.
Walter is a teenager growing up in a small Canadian town where everyone knows each other, which makes it all the harder to aspire to take on his distant father’s ownership of Carpenter & Sons Funeral Home. Partly as an act of rebellion, but mostly for something to do, Walter uses the knowledge of the recently deceased to rob their homes along with his younger deaf brother. But when the brothers come across something dangerous in one of the houses, it threatens dire consequences for the entire family.
Tone and mood can make or break a short film, and thankfully, they make this one; sweeping drone shots of the chilling Ontario landscape set the scene for a miserable tale told well, evoking the weighty drama of other atmospheric Frost Belt fare such as Manchester By The Sea or HBO’s Mare of Easttown. Other smaller moments are bestowed with the considerable weight of death – consider a well-worn trope, the intruder hiding under the bed as the resident returns home, which is deployed here, only to be broken up by an outpouring of grief. It is moments like this that stick out so well, with the services of the undertaker colouring the entirety of Walter’s experience.
Performances across the board are also strong, with special mention going to Robert Fulton as Walter’s grumbly father, delivering his passive aggression with a Richard Jenkins lilt. The sound design is also notably effective, particularly the representation of Walter’s younger brother’s experience as a deaf person, an eternal silence deployed effectively and meaningfully.
A tight, taut thriller with a Shyamalan-esque feel, The Wake doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it makes good on every promise. It is an exercise in atmospherics, which works to elevate the tale towards something more profound, even if other elements of the film don’t necessarily suggest it. A story worth telling of the dark, cold North.
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