22nd Feb2018

‘Black Wake’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Nana Gouvea, Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, Vincent Pastore, Chuck Zito | Written by Jeremiah Kipp, Jerry Janda, Carlos Keyes | Directed by Jeremiah Kipp


The end credits bloopers and outtakes oat the end of Black Wake suggest that what we just watched was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Yeah, right. This shockingly bad body shocker – an eco-conspiracy zombie D-movie borrowing from Barry Levinson’s superior The Bay – is clearly meant as a serious piece of work. And it seriously sucks.

Dr Luiza Moreira (Brazilian actress Nana Gouvea, in her English-language debut) is part of a team investigating a series of strange deaths on the Atlantic coast. That strangeness is braindead people eating brains. It’s a bog-standard zombie flick lumbered with an unconvincing, overcomplicated conspiracy theory plot.

This means unrelentingly dull, straight-to-camera exposition, intercut with badly executed found footage of people going near water and having (fairly well-rendered) CG bugs leap into their mouths. There’s no mystery to any of this – we can see clearly that there’s a zombie outbreak – so Moreira’s “revelations” about the epidemic (at one point she links two unrelated characters with some creepy pictures they drew) are completely irrelevant and dramatically inert because we are way ahead of her.

The final third of the movie takes a turn, with Moreira going mad and trying to find “home”, and here a bad movie would become laughable were it not tragic. Gouvea desperately struggles with her English delivery. It’s a disastrous work of acting which starts oddly flirty and becomes gradually sinister and progressively more baffling. It’s one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen, and blame should fall at least partly on director Jeremiah Kipp for failing to help her make the transition.

Other names one might spot on the DVD cover in Poundland are Tom Sizemore and Eric Roberts. The former looks like he’s being fed lines through an earpiece (or possibly through his hairpiece?) and the latter does a morning’s work before vanishing from the story. There’s also a cameo from Vincent Pastore, who’s sounding a bit like Andre the Giant. These classical thespians are wrestling with a staggeringly inept script. “You’re acting like a bunch of pregnant fucking bitches!” one perturbed scientist exclaims. It’s an awful line which also happens to highlight the film’s underlying misogyny and female objectification – whether it’s the government agents ogling Dr Moreira in her bikini, or the bevy of dead women in the morgue, bountifully topless.

The plot makes no sense. Why are the only people interested in this very obvious epidemic of mass violence contained in this one facility? Why would it need to be a secret? How could it remain a secret? And why is Moreira going loopy, anyway?

Aside from the writing, the film is littered with needless technical inconsistencies: the ever-changing colour-grading between cameras; the typos on the faux news reports; the perfect 1080p footage with full sound recording on a CCTV camera in an urban back alley; the identical firing sounds for pistol and rifle.

Perhaps predictably, though, the worst element is the deployment of found footage tropes. Why is this a found footage movie at all? The conceit adds nothing to the themes, the intensity or the atmosphere. There are no attempts by the actors to be naturalistic. The federal agents tracking Moreira have cameras on their glasses – yet often their scenes are filmed from the perspective of a third person. Then there’s the atrocious editing. Some of it is just bad (check out the hotel room scene for an example of how to ruin spatial tension) but some of it appears deliberate. For example, during certain scenes where Moreira talks to camera, her dialogue will briefly fail to match her mouth movements, only for the footage to then jump cut and catch up. It’s a pointless and distracting stylistic tic.

Unintelligible plotting, nonsensical dialogue delivered with an awkward accent, overwrought acting, shoddy editing, rambling script – oh god, is this The Room of horror movies? Would that it were so watchable. Avoid it like the living dead…

Black Wake has its World Premiere at the 2018 Philip K Dick Science Fiction Festival on Saturday February 24th.


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