by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved
Charles and I went to the library movie, which we’d been a bit dubious about going to, but it turned out to be a pure delight: Wake, a 2009 indie from a company called “Bull Market Entertainment” (these days shouldn’t it be called “Bear Market Entertainment”?) about a woman with the unusual name of Carys Reitman (Bijou Phillips) whom we first see laid out on a mortuary slab, being made up by mortician Shane (Danny Masterson). No, she’s not dead — but the death of her sister years before has turned her into a funeral groupie, not only dating a mortician and getting off on having sex in the mortuary room (while he’s scared shitless of being caught and losing his job) and crashing other people’s funerals just for the experience. (I kept being reminded of the odd little clip of ZaSu Pitts describing crashing someone else’s funeral in Erich von Stroheim’s last directorial effort, Hello, Sister! — while much of the movie, especially Pitts’s role in it, was reshot with other directors after Stroheim was fired from the project, this clip was definitely his work and it stands out as such.)
Things start to go wrong when at one such funeral Carys strokes the hand of the corpse — a young woman named Ruth Williams — and the elaborate engagement ring Ruth was supposed to be buried with comes off, and she takes it. She starts getting threatening contacts from the dead woman’s sister, Marissa (Sprague Grayden), and at one point Ruth’s fiancé Tyler (Ian Somerhalder), a veterinarian, comes over — only Carys and Tyler actually find themselves attracted to each other and start dating, albeit with a lot of pressure on Carys that she’s dating a man who will probably hate her when he finds out that, no matter how inadvertently, she did steal the ring he gave to his last girlfriend. As if that weren’t all quirky enough, Tyler soon finds himself the target of a police investigation — largely being driven by Marissa’s complaints — by two detectives who come to believe that he murdered Ruth, and Carys gets caught up in this when the police decide that she and Tyler were dating before Ruth’s death and Tyler offed Ruth to get her out of the way so he could be with Carys. There’s also a mysterious person named Varrnez (Bruno Campos), who Carys notices following her and Tyler around, and when she Googles them both she finds that Tyler’s record is clean (that’s how she finds out he’s a vet, and in a charming scene she goes to see him at his clinic and comes across him wrapping up an operation on a dog) but Varrnez has a criminal record.
Things come to a head at a weekend during which Tyler takes Carys to Santa Barbara for what’s supposed to be a glorious three days of beautiful countryside and hot sex, but which ends up with them both arrested — him for Ruth’s murder and she for stealing the ring, which she blurts out having done — along with never actually having known Anna despite the tale she spun at the funeral that they were old college acquaintances. There’s also a comic-relief character in Lila (Marguerite Moreau), Carys’s diet-obsessed roommate, whose big moment comes after Carys and Tyler have smashed her full-length mirror in the throes of their first sexual coupling on the floor of Carys’s apartment. They go out shopping and find a replacement, but it’s not what Lila wanted: the moment she looks at herself in it for the first time she starts screaming, “Where’s my slimming mirror?” (Later we see her fall off the Jenny Craig wagon big-time when the camera discovers her in her bed eating a large container of ice cream.) Directed by former casting director Ellie Kanner from a wise and witty script by Lennox Wiseley, Wake is a truly charming combination of dark comedy, love story and murder mystery, and its ending [spoiler alert!] is a bit out of left field but is perfectly logical given what we’ve seen so far: instead of the mysterious Varrnez turning out to have killed Ruth and framed Tyler for it (which is where I thought it was going), we learn that Tyler actually did kill Anna, but only because she wanted him to: she was suffering from terminal cancer and she asked him to euthanize her with drugs that were easy for him to obtain since they’re the ones that are used to put down terminally ill dogs — but after she was dead he put her behind the wheel of her car and ran it off a cliff to make it seem like she’d had an accident, especially since at Ruth’s request Tyler had carefully kept it from anyone in her family that she had cancer.
Especially for an independent movie with a young cast (Jane Seymour, as Carys’s mother, was the only person in it I’d heard of before) and not much of a reputation, Wake turned out to be an infectious delight, and though it could have worked out with Carys returning to Shane at the end, the ending has her and Tyler patch up their differences while Carys throws out her old journals from the days when her sister was dying (and she was blaming it, with some justice, on the doctors treating her), indicating that she’s got over her death obsession and is ready to embrace life along with her hot, charming, well-off boyfriend.