Posted: 09/05/2011

 

Wake the Witch

(2009)

by Jason Coffman




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There is one thing I can say for certain about Wake the Witch: it is the first feature-length horror film I know of that was shot in and around Lincoln, Nebraska. A low-budget feature shot on digital, Wake the Witch is an unusual but ultimately frustrating take on the “urban legend” horror film. Wake the Witch attempts to balance a number of plot threads and its story moves in different directions until it feels like the whole thing collapses by the end, although it is difficult to begrudge this much ambition in a film likely to be lumped together with legions of samey direct-to-disc horror movies.

Deb (Stefanie Tapio) is out doing a photo shoot with her friends Karen (Karis Yanike) and Trixie (Rachel Lien) in Wilderness Park, a wooded area near Lincoln, when they stumble across an old chain buried in the ground. Karen and Trixie explain to Deb the urban legend of the witch who was supposedly put to death for murdering local children a hundred years before. The chains were supposedly put in place by the townsfolk to prevent her from escaping the woods and returning to town, but legend says if one follows the chain to the tree where she was hanged, the witch will tell their future. Trixie gives it a try but nothing seems to happen, and the girls return home.

Once home, Deb learns her brother Mark (Martin Kenna) had a strange experience the night before in the same woods and is now very ill. Soon, Trixie begins showing signs of severe illness and others become sick, too. Deb begins to suspect that something in the woods is causing the epidemic, and researches the history of the park only to learn that major epidemics have swept the area before, including one a hundred years before. Deb and Karen are menaced by strange figures and Mark’s behavior becomes more and more erratic, and soon Deb realizes she must uncover the mystery of the witch before the town is wiped out.

The main shortcoming of Wake the Witch is its epic length. Clocking in at 114 minutes, the film could have used some more trimming to rein in its sprawling story. For example, a subplot involving Deb’s boyfriend may give some insight into the characters, but does not have any real impact on the action of the film. Writer/director Dorothy Booraem spends plenty of time with the characters to establish what is at stake, but then the film veers off into another new direction and characters tend to disappear. What starts as a little “urban legend” story spirals into an “infection” horror film, and eventually flirts with supernatural Lovecraftian horrors beyond mortal understanding.

That’s a lot of ground to cover in one feature, especially when most of it falls under the umbrella of a family drama between Deb, her mother (Barbara Elias), her brother, and her brother’s roommate Brent (Jeremy Gilmore). The acting is mostly fine, and some of the makeup and effects are nicely creepy. Unfortunately, after the film’s running time drags on and more mysteries are piled up, the ending seems very abrupt and leaves more questions hanging than it really answers.

Wake the Witch is not a bad first feature, although with a bit more time in the editing room, it could have been quite a bit better. Regardless, it’s worth a watch if only to say that you’ve definitely seen that horror film made in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Pacific Entertainment releases Wake the Witch on DVD on 6 September 2011. Special features include several behind-the-scenes featurettes and cast & crew interviews.

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).



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