In a weathered house in Maine, four mismatched brothers drunkenly pick at old wounds with the dedication of luckless alkies in a Eugene O’Neill play while their mother lies upstairs dying. Frosh helmer Henry LeRoy Finch keeps “Wake,” his intentionally theatrical exercise, percolating briskly, and “Queer as Folk” star Gale Harold — the nearest this family comes to a sympathetic character — could lure fans. But given pic’s literary set piece claustrophobia and lack of topical hooks, “Wake,” which opens today, May 28, in Gotham and Los Angeles, will likely die at the box office only to be resurrected on cable.
Finch’s classically dysfunctional alcoholic family comes fully equipped with one housebound writer, Sebastian (Dihlon McManne), who takes care of his unconscious mother and contemplates euthanasia while searching for his father’s insurance money.
Sebastian has summoned his youngest brother, Kyle (Harold), whose reliance on a dazzling array of prescribed pharmaceuticals makes him the perfect supplier for his mother’s deliverance. Wrestling with demons of his and his brothers’ making, Kyle fights both alcohol addiction and incapacitating memories of earlier sibling traumas.
Enter Ray (Blake Gibbons), who has just escaped from prison, some months shy of his release date. Tending toward extroverted sociopathic aggression in contrast to Kyle’s introverted depression, Ray is soon joined by fourth brother Jack (John Winthrop Philbrick), an ex-security guard who helped Ray make his getaway.
Jack adds two guns and a couple of local floozies (Rainer Judd and Dusty Paik) to the already explosive mix of booze and familial breakdown: The four brothers pour a small liquor store’s worth of potent potables down their respective gullets. As accusations and secrets fly around the room, so too do fists and bullets, and ghosts of old wrongs arise to commit further wrongs.
Pic is bookended by a prologue and epilogue delivered at an old Royal portable typewriter by Martin Landau (father of the producer and father-in-law of the director) as the now aged older brother Sebastian, writing about the night his mother died.
Though the characters are not particularly interesting in themselves, their dynamic remains consistently engrossing. Strong thesping and solid staging, atmospherically accompanied by disorienting, darkly folksy Ramsay Midwood songs make “Wake” surprisingly watchable for a film whose whole raison d’etre appears to be something of a mystery.