Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Wake Up and Die

Wake Up and Die
Original title: Volver a morir
Directed by: Miguel Urrutia
Colombia, 2011
Horror, Drama, 83min

Imagine being caught up in a loop that you couldn’t break out of… a nightmare world where each time you woke and opened your eyes, you’d know that you would be facing violent death in just a few minutes. How long could you take it? What would you do to break the circle?
Camilla [Andrea Montenegro] wakes up naked in bed next to the equally naked Darío [Luis Fernando Bohórquez] who talks about how great last night was… Camilla hasn’t got the faintest idea what he’s talking about. She has no recollection at all of the night before at all, or who he is. So when he folds down the photograph of his mother, you know things are going to turn bad.
Presenting the night before – where Camilla hooks up with Darío – under the credits and titles sequence is an effective way of getting tedious exposition out of the way. Instead the main narrative can get right in there without showing us awkward pickup lines and tainting characters with drunken, horny dialogue. Instead we are relieved of all of that and it also establishes certain “prejudices” about the characters that will be flipped over a while later. What at first seems to be an slightly awkward “where the hell am I, how much did I drink last night, and who the hell is that lying next to me?” progresses into a fearsome provocation as Darío forces his way upon Camilla. At first in a simple way, by yanking the sheet’s she’s covering herself with while she tries to locate herself by looking out the window from her. We can sense her discomfort as she once again stands naked in front of the, to her, unbeknownst man. They end up making out, which leads to forced intercourse before Darío wraps his large hands around her frail throat. A fairly dark and disturbing look into the ordinary world, before a series of non-linear time warps establish the set up – Darío kills Camilla. She awakens in his bed. The nightmare starts all over again.
Already from hearing the name: Wake Up and Die, this movie grabbed my attention. There’s something dark in that title, dark and sinister that appeals to my exploitation glands. The imagery of the opening set up, echoed any anticipation I had built up before finally watching this film. Even in their simplest form, I find myself constantly blown away by the stunning cinematography and fantastic compositions that come with independent horror film of today. Ten, fifteen years ago, a lot of these independent horror movies would have been shot on DV, or even worse Hi8 or S-VHS and would never have stood a chance against the competition in the way that films do these days. Cinematographer Alejandro Ardila and Miguel Urrutia have shot a movie that looks just as brooding, dark and disturbing as the title insinuates, and it looks fantastic.
But WHY do we automatically take Camilla’s side in this dark tale? Well definitely because it’s her ordeal we are witnessing, she’s the one who takes us on the first flashback hence giving us a reference point. It’s her emotions we relate to, the fear in her eyes, the shame of waking up in a strange place, the exposure of being naked in front of a strange person. Undoubtedly the vulnerability! Now it may seem a bit generic to go to claim that the vulnerable female is the point of identification, and that’s not what I’m pointing at. In fact it’s the emotional recognition that we share with Camilla that makes us empathise with her. If Urrutia had taken us alongside Darío’s path during that first morning, we would have empathized with him. Instead he’s the dominant character and she the “prey” so we take sides with her. After all, deep down in our basic human programming, we want things to be fair and just, so seeing a “prey” being stalked we empathies with it. That’s why we go “Awww no!” each time the baby antelope is trapped and killed by the lions in the nature shows we watch, despite us really respecting and admiring the lion too. Emotional recognition gives Empathy. Urrutia later uses this in an cunning way to lead his audience down a path which may play tricks on their minds!
The driving force comes out of the fact that it becomes a challenge for Camilla to find out more and more about Darío each time she get’s a fresh start. At the same time she has figure out how she can stay alive for the short period of time before it all starts over again. But for each additional piece of information Camilla figures out or finds, the more questions are posed.
In an interesting way this splendid exploitation flick builds off a twisted investigation plot. An investigation plot set in a chamber piece. I was surprised that the movie stays true to the chamber piece, all the way through, as it can cause a problem story wise if you isolate all the action to one location – Darío’s apartment. But for independent filmmakers, this is the kind of plot that can save your budget, as you only have to use few locations. Urrutia pulls it off with bravura, and it never feels cramped or as if the small location restrains the action. Instead it becomes part of the narrative, as we understand along the way, that Camilla’s freedom and safety is outside that apartment. I say this is a variant on the Investigation plot, as Camilla has to puzzle things she learns from each cycle, to figure out a way to take command of the situation, hence becoming the one with the upper hand and in some way defeating the repetitive and deadly loop. There’s a great toying with the audience as audio cues are used to indicate that Darío is ready to kill. A piece of classical music on the radio, and keeping it “everyday realistic” the sound of Darío urinating are the key sounds. When they are heard – or used as part of the narrative, they work as referents to the fact that the end is near, or is it.
Again, to support the twisted investigation plot, the more we learn of the situation, the more dark secrets are revealed. We slowly start to understand how things come together and learn the motifs for what is about to happen. There’s a splendid sequence of the loop, where roles are flipped head over ass, and Urrutia challenges everything we have learned so far, and the last act reveals some sinister dark secrets that definitely elevate the movie into serial killer, trophy collector turf which puts Ed Gein to shame.
Luis Fernando Bohórquez and hot Peruvian actress/model Andrea Montenegro mostly known for their parts in Telenovelas are basically naked throughout the whole movie – an impressive feat to say the least. It’s a detail that I like with the entire movie, a realism that stays true to the story. Yeah, it’s silly, but I hate when sex scenes end with people getting out of bed in their underwear, I want realism. Moments like Camilla searching the apartment, partially to map it out, partially to find her underwear as they obviously came off all over the place last night may seem as insignificant, but for me they sell the reality of the piece. The next time she awakens, she knows where to find her shirt, where the unlocked door is, where that hidden torture chamber is. It’s quite possible that Urrutia’s background in documentary films has had a part in this excellent approach, but either way, it’s one of the fine details that make the movie so much more than just a scary exploitation flick.
When talking of Urrutia’s eye for detail, it’s appropriate to mention the way he’s edited his movie. What at first seems to be fast blitz edits in-between cycles, is in fact rapid exposition and the deeper into the intrigue one get’s the more these blasts of fast images can be seen as some form of depraved Easter eggs. Because if you pay attention – which you should – you will see some really disturbing material in these in between splices, backstory, death, necrophilia… told you! Pay attention.

I can’t say how many movie it takes to define a series of films as a “new wave”, but Colombia definitely is onto something, Juan Felipe Orozco’s Al final del espectro (At the End of the Spectra) 2006, Jaime Osorio Marquez El páramo (The Squad) 2011, and now Wake Up and Die, are definitely a fresh spark from a country we perhaps should be keeping our eye on.
Wake Up and Die is a delightful kick in the bollocks: raw, intriguing and sadistically beautiful in its frustrating loop of violence and nightmare. I definitely encourage you to seek this movie out and give it all your support it’s worth every second.

Wake Up and Die is set to be released from NjutaFilms later in 2012.

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