By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Nana Gouvea, Jonny Beauchamp and Eric Roberts
Directed by Jeremiah Kipp
Written by Jerry Janda
From the jump, the Lovecraftian found-footage romp BLACK WAKE stakes out some intoxicatingly gonzo territory, luring viewers toward an X on the edge of the cinematic map which may resemble our modern, civilized world, yet is rife just below the surface with apocalyptic cults, Cthulhu-like monsters, zombies, unscrupulous authority figures, messianic eccentrics, scientists who seem to have earned their PhDs at Body Horror U and more. In short, it’s as if Errol Morris shot a THIN BLUE LINE-esque police-procedural doc in an alternate universe forged out of bits and pieces of SLiTHER, THE HIDDEN, DIARY OF THE DEAD and THE BELIEVERS.
Oh, did I mention it’s got Eric Roberts, Tom Sizemore, THE SOPRANOS’ Vincent Pastore and Jonny Beauchamp (PENNY DREADFUL) chewing their way through the scenery as well?
Though the story is told via multiple through-the-lens points of view, we primarily navigate this world through the eyes of Dr. Luiza Moreira (Brazilian model turned star of stage and screen Nana Gouvea), a scientist tasked with solving a epidemic of odd, gruesome, obviously related deaths. As her constant surveillance by some sort of shadowy government agency suggests, she’s got a far more personal connection to the killings than she can fathom at first. However, when a detective passes along a demented end-of-days manifesto compiled by a homeless man (Beauchamp), Moreira begins to realize she may actually have more in common with the burgeoning death cult than her government paymasters.
Anchored by Gouvea’s nuanced, impressively naturalistic performance that sees her slowly evolve from meek, forlorn protagonist to fiery, world-destroying antagonist, BLACK WAKE is free to embrace bombast—and, yes, a fair amount of schlock—elsewhere. And Lord, does it ever. Beauchamp, especially, infuses his character with a manic energy that is by turns playful, endearing and harrowing. The movie also boasts a memorable and deftly edited/scored climax that is part creature reveal, part surrealistic nightmare.
Though clearly somewhat aesthetically restrained by budget, director Jeremiah Kipp does a great job of diversifying and integrating the found-footage elements to successful bring Jerry Janda’s unorthodox script to life. It goes there, again and again and again. Despite some stilted moments, BLACK WAKE is a wild, engaging feature that is not at all reluctant to embrace its crazy—and, flaws and all, that’s more rousing than a hundred rote, paint-by-numbers films.