Barry Berk’s first feature as writer/director is a thriller which attempts to explore and emulate the ravages of grief.
Based on the novel by Alistair Morgan and set in South Africa, Sleeper’s Wake is the story of John Wraith (Lionel Newton), a middle-aged writer who wakes at the film’s outset to find his wife and daughter are dead – killed, in all probability, after he fell asleep at the wheel of the car in which they were travelling.
Encouraged by his sister Rebecca (Amanda Lane), John heads back to nature, or – more specifically – to his brother-in-law’s log cabin in a remote coastal settlement known as Nature’s Cove. Rather than providing him with the relaxed atmosphere he needs, the residents and landscape are viewed through the prism of Wraith’s paranoia, making the experience deeply unsettling.
John perversely goes about exorcising his own demons by becoming embroiled in the fallout of another family’s tragedy when he meets the Venters who have recently suffered a similar loss after been held at gunpoint in their home. John reluctantly bonds with the father Roelf (Deon Lotz) and – in a very different and increasingly inappropriate way – the teenage daughter Jackie (Jay Anstey).
Sleeper’s Wake has shades of a neo-noir, with Jackie coming on like a femme fatale and mistrust hanging heavy in the air. It’s sometimes bold and uncanny and, bearing in mind that this is his feature debut, Barry Berk certainly doesn’t lack cahoonas as a director. However, flashes of nerve and originality can’t disguise that this is a film that promises more than it delivers and ultimately it’s rather unsatisfying as both a thriller and as a probing drama.