Producer: Renji Philip Director: Renji Philip Screenplay: Renji Philip Cast: Rome Brooks, Matt Bush, William Morton, Tyler Steelman, Sandra Seeling, Paula Rhodes, Avery Quinn Moss and Lincoln Bodin Distributor: Axispacific Filmworks
Renji Philip’s film—slender in both running-time and emotional weight—carries a note of thanks to Werner Herzog in the credits, but what the renowned director might have had to do with encouraging its auteur is unclear. In any event “The Wake of Light” comes off as a slight, affected quasi-romance with a message of redemption at its core. (It opens, one should note, with a Scriptural quotation, and includes a sequence of its protagonist visiting a church, but whether one should call it “faith-based,” except in a very muted sense, is questionable.)
The central character is Mary (Rome Brooks), a twenty-something resident of a small town (the film was shot around Sutter Creek, California). She lives in a remote house on the outskirts of town with her father (William Morton); he’s a widower, partially incapacitated by a stroke, whom she has taken care of for years. (There are recurrent gauzy flashbacks to the time when, as a child played by Avery Quinn Moss, she found him lying in a field.)
They live mostly on her father’s disability income, it seems, but Mary also makes a bit of money by selling bottles of water from their backyard pump in town. It’s while on her rounds that she meets Cole (Matt Bush), an amiable fellow from Virginia on a trip to Sand Flats in Utah whose car has broken down outside of town. A chipper, endlessly chatty guy who says “Cool” and “Awesome” a lot, he buys a bottle of water from Mary and says it’s the best he’s ever tasted.
That’s the beginning of a brief encounter in which she shows him the well, brings him over for dinner, introduces him to her dad’s pet rabbit, and invites him to sit with her and her father in law chairs to watch the sunset. She also takes him on a hike to visit her favorite spot in the wilderness.
But though he eventually asks her to come away with him, she refuses. He accuses her of using her father as an excuse for not moving ahead with her life (a fact her father, suddenly able or willing to speak, seconds) and leaves, only to come back later; he can’t stay, though, because—as we learn—there’s something he’s running away from back home. Apparently this has been a journey of discovery for both, although in the end Mary remains where she started, enjoying an impromptu Fourth of July meal with her father and their neighbors, little Russell (Tyler Steelman) and his mom Laura (Sandra Seeling). If this is meant to add a note of newfound independence to the mix, that’s not made clear.
Though at under eighty minutes “The Wake of Light” barely constitutes a feature, it’s terribly padded—mostly with elongated montages in which Mary and Cole talk comfortably with one another; of course we don’t hear what they’re saying, because the soundtrack instead gives us reams of sappy music composed by Josh Mancell, filled with tinkling piano riffs by Josh Kramer—an all-too common dodge to avoid writing meaningful dialogue.
The performances by Brooks and Bush are wildly different; she’s moody and quiet, he’s a bundle of phony enthusiasm. The only other actor of consequence is Morton, who mostly lumbers about in a bathrobe, though tyke Steelman is irritatingly energetic (he’s apparently meant to be somewhere on the spectrum). Rainer Lipski’s camerawork has a tendency to strain for a ruggedly painterly look, while Matthew Diezel’s editing is slack.
One imagines that Philip hopes that his film will seem quietly profound. But it only feels uncomfortably pretentious.