Wake Up

Wake Up (2023)

Wake Up had its UK première at the Glasgow FrightFest 2024.

The closing credits of Wake Up include the disclaimer, “Absolutely no animals were harmed during filming.” For a film in which only one animal – a rat – is actually seen on screen being caught and killed in an improvised hammer trap, that modifier ‘absolutely’ may seem a little overstated. Yet in this film, from the start, the human characters are also figured as animals, and they too – though thankfully not the actors who play them – are shown time and time again coming to sticky ends. 

“Wake up, people,” says a figure in an animal mask speaking directly to camera in the film’s opening sequence, and revealing more folk, also in animal masks, behind him, “You’ve awoken the beast and now we’re coming for you, there’s gonna be blood for blood.” The speaker is Ethan (Benny O. Arthur), a committed environmentalist who with his fellow activists Yasmin (Jacqueline Moré), Grace (Alessia Yoko Fontana), Tyler (Kyle Scudder), Emily (Charlotte Stoiber) and new recruit Karim (Tom Gould), are planning to stay hidden in the branch of their local department store House Idea (which let’s just say sounds like Ikea for a reason) as it closes for the evening, and to spend the rest of the night filming themselves inside as they graffiti its inner walls with slogans and logos, and otherwise vandalise its interiors with butchered meat and paint-gun splatter, all as a phone-filmed protest that they hope will go viral publicising the destruction of rainforests to supply the store with the materials that make up its flat-packed furnishings. “Now”, as Yasmin puts it, “the animals are taking their revenge.”

Working security in the building are brothers Kevin (Turlough Convery) and Jack (Aidan O’Hare), who, after a violent incident with a shopper, have already been relegated to night duty to keep them away from any contact with customers, and who are one step away from being fired. While Jack drinks himself into a stupor, Kevin follows video instructions on his smartphone to construct a handmade crossbow from wood. For this highly-strung bearded hulk is an aficionado of ‘primitive hunting’ or, as Jack dismissively describes it, a “bunch of weirdoes trying to kill animals with sticks and stones.”

As these unreconstructed, white, working-class brothers pass the hours in the back office, and the sextet of diverse, ‘woke’ youths enact their assault on middle-class North American values in the store beyond, a clash between them becomes inevitable – and when their first encounter quickly spirals out of control, something in Kevin cracks, and he takes it upon himself to hunt the co-eds down like animals in this corporate enclosure, using traps and weapons that he fashions out of whatever is to hand in the store. Accordingly, Kevin is somewhere between a grown-up version of his namesake from the Home Alone films, and a muttering monstrous killing machine engaged in cruel, deadly games of cat and mouse. For this is Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama (2016) taken apart and put back together again as a popular slasher, while following the pack box instructions of Irving Pichel and Ernest P. Schoedsack’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932).

Wake Up is directed by François Dimard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell (Turbo Kid, 2015, Summer of 84, 2018; We Are Zombies, 2023), who work under the name of RKSS or ‘Roadkill Superstars’ (which is also the text seen emblazoned across Grace’s T-shirt), while its script by Alberto Marini shows all the mean-spiritedness of Marini’s earlier screenplays for Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight (Mientras duermes, 2011) and his own Summer Camp (2015). Given that Dimard and the Whissells are themselves an independent Canadian collective operating on the margins of the system, it is easy to imagine where their sympathies lie in this film, but to their credit they also show the young home (depot) invaders at their very worst – preachy and puritanical while blithely doing untold criminal damage to other people’s property and employment – and in the activists’ collision with the brothers, it becomes obvious that we are seeing two poles of a politically divided nation that have transgressed beyond the point of easy reconciliation. Here everyone is not only trapped together in a closed capitalist system that makes predators and prey of them all, but also bestialised by an ideological opposition from which possibly none in the end will wake up. 

strap: François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell’s slasher is a lean, mean confrontation of ideologies in capitalism’s polarising marketplace.

© Anton Bitel