Black Wake (2018)

Black Wake is one of those films that arrives in a swirl of the strange and half-hinted:  a mysterious young drifter, a book filled with madness and delusion that seems almost to make sense, murders, parasites, unconnected events that might be part of some incomprehensible pattern.

It is also one of those films that could be described as “found footage” — although it eschews the lone cameraman/single viewpoint used in most of these films.  Instead it is something closer to a documentary — or perhaps, closer to a film which it strongly resembles. Operation Avalanche,  Like it, Black Wake,is supposedly a collection of bits of film from various sources which someone has assembled into a narrative.

One could try to file this one under some simple heading — a pandemic film, a zombie film, a medical mystery, or even a psychological drama — but it would resist anything so straightforward.  Instead, we are talking about a film with details emerging from the corners that don’t seem to fit, with characters who suddenly behave in inexplicable ways, with things caught on film we weren’t supposed to see, with secret truths hidden in what look like childish scribbles.

Jeremiah Kipp one of those young filmmakers who has already attracted a lot of attention on the basis of a single feature and a lot of shorts.  Admittedly, that’s a fairly broad category, but he does exemplary work here, creating a deliberately chaotic storyline which still not only makes sense, but drags the audience along for the ride.  It is also one of the few films I have seen which really captures the essence of H.P. Lovecraft’s work — with its madness, its hints of the grotesque, and its mostly unseen inhuman things beyond our reason —  even though Black Wake never specifically mentions either Lovecraft or any of his stories.

Perhaps the most admirable thing is how much we understand by the end of the film, even though Jeremiah never specifically spells it out, merely gives us a few hints and details and lets us fill the gaps in ourselves.  I particularly liked the ultimate goal of all the things that happen, something which is hinted at long before we learn the truth.

I do have to note one problem with the film:  Nana Gouvea’s rather thick accent.  Her performance as Dr. Moreira is excellent, but I found myself straining to understand her at times.  This is particularly problematic because she spends a large part of the film speaking to the camera.  I will note that this was at least partly because the sound levels on my screener seemed a bit low — a problem I’ve had at times with my computer and which may not be the fault of the transfer.  However, was more of a minor glitch than a serious hindrance.

This is a solid and well-crafted film, one which resists the urge to explain everything to death and leaves a lot to the audience to figure out for itself — and whose horror is mostly hinted at, or unseen,

…Or just lurking in the corner of our eyes.

(My thanks to Carlos Keyes for providing a screener)

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