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Gothic family tale 'Wake' suffers from a deadly script

May 28, 2004|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

The convergence of four brothers with divergent intentions leads to a deadly mix of alcohol, prescription drugs and firearms in "Wake," the writing and directing debut of Henry LeRoy Finch. A hackneyed gothic tale invoking those traditional American family values of secrets and lies, the film fails to transcend its derivative literary aspirations.

The film opens and closes with Martin Landau, the director's father-in-law, in a brief cameo as one of the brothers, Sebastian. In a gray, dusty house, he sits at a manual typewriter, carefully pecking out and narrating the story that unfolds in flashback.

Dihlon McManne plays the younger Sebastian, the sensitive poet type, perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s, as he cares for his dying mother in the same house and awaits the arrival of his younger brother Kyle ("Queer as Folk's" Gale Harold). Kyle is the "damaged" brother who works as a mechanic after spending time in mental institutions and pops a steady diet of pills in an attempt to keep his demons at bay.

Before Kyle arrives, however, the fiery Ray (Blake Gibbons) unexpectedly shows up. Ray is the black sheep brother having recently granted himself an early release from prison and returns suspecting Sebastian and Kyle of conspiring to do him out of whatever inheritance is to be had when their mother dies.

Jack (John Winthrop Philbrick), the fourth brother and least developed character, completes the reunion bringing along the party favors, Dusty (Rainer Judd) and April (Dusty Paik), two women he's picked up at a local strip joint.

The accusations and arguments begin immediately and make for a long night of drinking and fighting and partying, interrupted by occasional interludes of exposition. Filmed in an old house in Maine, the final two-thirds of "Wake" is extremely set-bound, and much of it plays as a prolonged acting exercise in macho posturing.

Finch's strengths as a director reflect his background in music and sound design. Sound is the film's most original aspect, and Finch uses a complex layering of effects in an attempt to aurally create Kyle's increasingly distressed mental state. The moody soundtrack, including original songs by Ramsay Midwood, effectively evokes the dark tones Finch is seeking, but it is not nearly enough to overcome the vagueness of the film's script.

Finch's acknowledged influences -- Eugene O'Neill, Edward Albee and Sam Shepard -- cast long, impenetrable shadows over a shallow film lacking the specificity necessary to breathe fresh life into familiar themes. Rather than letting these earlier writers seep into his work, Finch takes some obliquely Shepard-like characters and places them in a claustrophobic O'Neill setting to await some Albee-esque revelations that never come.

Straining for universality, the filmmaker ends up with a generic film devoid of any sense of time or place, and characters who are at best archetypes but whose behavior mostly verges on the stereotypical.

As a dramatist, Finch does not possess the subtlety to write around the topics he wants to address, clumsily allowing his characters to yell and scream at one another -- fun for the actors perhaps, but death to the film. Nothing is allowed to build, so there is no tension or surprise left for the film's climax, resulting in a reductively pulpy rehash of 20th century American drama.



MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Violence, language, sexual situations

Gale Harold...Kyle

Blake Gibbons...Raymond

Dihlon McManne...Sebastian

John Winthrop Philbrick...Jack

Martin Landau...Older Sebastian

Wildwell Films presents a Fictionworks production, in association with Kennebec Filmworks, released by Echelon Entertainment. Writer-director Henry LeRoy Finch. Producer Susan Landau Finch. Executive producers Michael C. Donaldson, Margaret Rockwell. Cinematographer Patrick Kelly. Editor Gus Carpenter. Costume designer Szuszana Megyesi. Music Chris Anderson, Henry LeRoy Finch. Production designer Eric Matheson. Art director Matthew Clark.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Exclusively at the Regent Showcase, 614 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood, (323) 934-2944.

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