Black Wake proves that something genuinely weird and offbeat can be constructed out of what are otherwise fairly standard parts; you’ve never seen a movie quite like it, even if you’ve seen hundreds of movies that are sort of like it.
The umbrella term to describe director Jeremiah Kipp’s low-budget feature would be “found-footage horror,” but beyond that, it’s also a paranoid apocalyptic thriller, a zombie movie, a Lovecraftian “weird tale,” a Roger Corman-esque exploitation flick, a Michael Crichton medical mystery – the list goes on and on, as if Kipp and company took every disparate type of sci-fi/horror movie they ever thought was cool, threw them all in a Cuisinart, and hit “puree”. You’d think the resulting concoction would end up being an incoherent mess, but somehow, this wild jumble of genres ends up really working in Black Wake‘s favor. One never quite knows what to expect from the film, and thus, it doesn’t allow any opportunity for viewers to get bored or overthink things – you just get swept up in its crazy amalgamation of familiar elements, and you can’t help but be entertained.
“The film continually suggests something much larger in scope than what’s actually on screen…”
The story, played out in scenes made to resemble everything from security camera footage to cell-phone video to amateur documentary clips, spirals outward from a series of grisly, mysterious deaths along the Atlantic coast; the victims’ skulls all appear to have burst outward from inside, ruling out the possibility of a human culprit. The government convenes a multidisciplinary team of scientists to investigate, but the only one who’s willing to explore the case’s more otherworldly angles is the headstrong psychologist/anthropologist Dr. Moreira (played by Brazilian model and TV star Nana Gouvea), who for reasons not immediately clear is herself being spied on by sinister forces.
Gouvea’s increasingly frantic to-camera monologues provide Black Wake‘s throughline, though the film piles on footage of various incidents connected to her investigation as it progresses, each sequence playing almost like a short found-footage movie of its own – some of them effectively weird and creepy, some almost comically gruesome and over-the-top, some featuring top-flight B-movie talent such as Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, and The Sopranos‘ Vincent Pastore. Set to the low thrum of composer Scott Hampton’s nerve-jangling musical score, these scenes – yes, even a few rather silly ones – collectively build to a level of fatalistic, end-of-the-world ominousness that’s pretty epic for such a small-scale film. By time Black Wake reaches its bravura climax, it’s managed to work in everything from cultists to military/industrial conspiracy to alien(ish) parasites and mind control, recalling everything from The X-Files to Night of the Creeps to vintage sci-fi schlock half-recalled from late-night TV screenings.
“…while it doesn’t exactly reinvent the found-footage genre, it at least dares to reconfigure it in a consistently interesting, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of way.”
Kudos are due to Kipp and his co-writers Jerry Janda and Carlos Keyes for weaving all of those elements together, offering up an ambitious take on what might have been much more straightforward genre material. The film continually suggests something much larger in scope than what’s actually on screen, and while the story may not hold up to much scrutiny, its approach never ceases to keep viewers on their toes. The more recognizable actors don’t leave much of an impression in roles that are basically glorified cameos, but Gouvea has an engagingly intense presence (she has a way with a dramatic pause), and some of the supporting players make the most of their limited screen time being possessed and/or splattered by the film’s parasitic nasties. Even the visual effects are above-par for this kind of thing; though the zombie stuff is fairly standard, the creature effects and gore definitely deliver the goods, and scenes are keenly shot and staged to take advantage of limited but well-done CGI.
All that said, Black Wake surely isn’t for all tastes; any viewer looking for conventional plotting and character development along with their apocalyptic mayhem and conspiracy weirdness is bound to be left wanting. For those who can tune in to its bizarre wavelength, though, this has cult-favorite written all over it – it’s energetic and loopy and discordant and kind of mesmerizing, and while it doesn’t exactly reinvent the found-footage genre, it at least dares to reconfigure it in a consistently interesting, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of way.
Black Wake (2018) Directed by Jeremiah Kipp. Starring Nana Gouvea, Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, Chuck Zito, Vincent Pastore, and Jonny Beauchamp.
4 stars out of 5