Nov 17, 2023
Isaac Kragten, Zander Colbeck-Bhola, Robert Fulton
NEW TO UK FILM REVIEW
Critics Chris Olson and Brian Penn host UK Film Club - a new film podcast covering all film types. From blockbusters to old favourites and even indie & shorts.
Luis Gerard’s The Wake is an impressive short drama reinforced by two remarkable performances from young leading actors Isaac Kragten and Zander Colbeck-Bhola as two brothers relying on each other to cope with a difficult family home, unwittingly on a path that leads towards tragedy.
Kragten stars as Walter Carpenter, a teenage boy living with a neglectful and alcoholic father (Robert Fulton) and evasive mother (Patty Sullivan). His younger brother Martin (Colbeck-Bhola) is deaf, and the pair have formed a close bond. When their father, a funeral home director, is hosting grieving families, the pair break into the deceased’s homes – taking what they want from those who they assume no longer need it. Their habit however comes with risks – and the discovery of a gun in one of the targeted homes seems to draw the family towards a terrible fate.
The Wake examines complex and troubled family dynamics in which unresolved and uncommunicated traumas threaten to implode what could otherwise be a happy suburban life. Each member of the Carpenter family makes or has made terrible mistakes that hurt their loved ones – directly and indirectly. The father’s overbearing discipline and drinking problem combined with the mother’s reluctance to intervene clearly leads to the boy’s delinquency and mentality of survival. Meanwhile Walter’s control over his younger brother stems from a need for power in his own life – and his manipulation of his sibling is a provoking element of the film which creates engaging shades of grey in the pair as protagonists. Walter is still very much a child in his own right, and his lashings out at the world are understandable given what the viewer sees of his life.
Isaac Kragten’s performance is a revelation – with the young actor bringing an unexpected maturity and complexity to Walter. He captures the sense that Walter has been forced to grow up beyond his years in the face of absent parents – and the callousness with which he embarks on a crime spree means audiences will face conflicting reactions to the character at first. His dynamic with Zander Colbeck-Bhola’s Martin is seamless – and the pair effortlessly demonstrate the pair’s natural relationship. Walter’s maturity makes him an imperfect but convincing role model for Martin. Meanwhile Martin’s hearing impairment is quietly demonstrated to be a driver for Walter’s protectiveness of his younger brother. His youthful interpretation of keeping his brother safe is what leads to irresponsible use of the gun they find – and the lack of care, guidance or parental support is channelled directly into the film’s finale because of this.
The key event itself is delivered in an unusual, surprising and unpredictable way. Given this is the film’s pivotal moment, it is sure to spark debate and likely to play a large part in defining the viewer’s immediate response. Without spoiling anything, the delivery of the scene seems to prioritise shock value over consistent storytelling, and the jarring manner in which it occurs risks taking the viewer out of the film – although the actual direction of the scene itself (which takes place at – you guessed it – a wake) is impressive in its foreboding unravelling of the truth. In hindsight, the fundamentals of the film are not impacted negatively by the ending – but this crucial scene undoubtably overshadows much of the character and story work that occurs throughout the film. As to whether this is for better or worse will depend on the viewer’s own interpretation and reception – but for me it was reductive rather than beneficial.