What do you look for in a horror movie? A sleepy town with a dark past? Check. Serial killers? This movie has one. A collection of sinister videotapes? You bet. Haunted house? Zombies? Yep, and yep. Solar flares? Sure, why not… You know that meme about how your brain is like an internet browser – 19 tabs open, 3 of them frozen, and where is that music coming from? This is the movie version of that; a script that feels like it’s been doused in energy drinks and set on fire. Like a brainstorming session that ended with the decision to use every single idea, so no-one felt left out… Think It’s Always Sunny’s Charlie and his yarn board and you may be somewhere close to the crazy ride that is A WAKEFIELD PROJECT.
Following the death of his father, Eric (Anthony Bewlz, Tooth Fairy) ropes in best friend Reese (Dennis Andres, Workin’ Moms) to invest in and renovate an abandoned motel in the little town of Wakefield. As we all know by now, renovations often stir up paranormal activity. Cue psychic medium and love interest, Chloe (Lindsey Seim, Insidious: Chapter 2, St. Agatha), returning to her roots to fill in the new business owners on the property’s blood-stained past. Conveniently, she arrives just as solar flares cause an atmospheric shift that lifts the veil between the living and the dead for an action-filled 24 hours. Can the trio survive until dawn, or will the Wakefield Butcher resolve his unfinished business and finally claim his seventh victim?
From the opening sequence, we are assaulted with a procession of newspaper articles and news footage set to an ominous soundtrack, ensuring that we are in no doubt that weird stuff happens in this little town. From that point on, the clumsy exposition remains relentlessly constant, crediting the viewer with little to no ability to retain information or put the pieces together themselves. There are certain facts you are absolutely not allowed the opportunity to forget. The constant references in the dialogue to the fact that ERIC’S DAD IS DEAD. Oh, and in case the opening news reports didn’t stick, the electrical anomalies and high-pitch screeching noise remind you that THERE ARE SOLAR FLARES. Now let’s add in some ghosts BECAUSE THE VEIL IS THINNING and a weird rash developing on townspeople that they will draw attention to by clawing at their necks BECAUSE ZOMBIES… But the exposition, while irritating, is somewhat necessary to keep track of all the narrative strands, although arguably would be far more effective if dealt with a more adept and experienced touch.
Seim developed the script from a story, “Befall”, by producer Diane DaCosta. If rumors are to be believed, the script was rewritten while on set and if true, this goes a long way towards explaining why this complex web begins to unravel halfway through. That’s not to say A WAKEFIELD PROJECT is completely predictable, and some of the strands do come together in interesting ways. But others seem to fray into nothingness. For example, the importance placed on Eric’s father’s death at the beginning leads nowhere, other than giving Chloe the vehicle to enter Eric’s life and attempt to give him some kind of emotional depth that Bewlz fails to deliver.
On the subject of Bewlz, he seems to have been hired for his looks over his acting ability, although maybe you can’t hold him entirely responsible for Eric’s bland character. There is a distinct lack of depth to both the character and the performance that makes the lead hard to care about. There is no real reason to root for this guy beyond the fact that, and I’m not sure I mentioned this before, his dad has died.
Seim is charming and likable when in conversation, yet her attempts to be “spooky” and mysterious fall short of the mark. She shows believable fear and even a dash of bravery in the face of danger, yet she is left crying and simpering in Eric’s arms after she loses a fight with, of all things, a ladder.
Andres is the saving grace on the cast, making the horny frat-boy sidekick Reese incredibly endearing and entertaining. He overcomes the stereotypical nature of the character with perfect comic timing and layered performance that easily outshines his co-stars. Andres dials it up while others have merely phoned it in, his sardonic commentary often echoing the sentiments of the viewer.
Other cast members worthy of mention are Eileen Dietz (The Assent) as the woefully underused character of Sheryl, Rob Archer (Lost Girl) who provides an imposing presence as the Wakefield Butcher, Nathan Cross, and Dan Yeager (Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw 3D) as Cross’ mean, and equally imposing, father.
On paper, this is a female-led production. A WAKEFIELD PROJECT pairs up Seim in her first full-length scriptwriting credit, and actor/writer L.A. Lopes in her directorial debut. This, alongside the crazy premise, gave me hope. My hope was quickly dashed after being presented with a succession of stereotypical hyper-masculine roles. And the female characters don’t fare too well either. While Chloe’s character definitely has more depth than her male counterparts, and a degree of agency, this is negated right from the off with Reese describing her as “bang-able” – a choice which should say more about Reese’s character, but ultimately is a clear sign of the level of female empowerment that we are dealing with here. She is not a victim in the traditional horror sense, yet her personal quest for closure is somewhat overtaken by her role as Eric’s love interest. A WAKEFIELD PROJECT even fails to pass the Bechdel test, which is common in the genre, but unforgivable given its production team.
A WAKEFIELD PROJECT tackles so many horror tropes and combines them in an intriguing and frenetic way, yet ultimately fails to bring anything new to the table, leaving the viewer baffled and with a weary feeling akin to a caffeine crash. As Reese astutely declares in what may be the most self-aware statement in the entire movie: “the energy is all wrong”. Now, I think I need to go take a long nap… A WAKEFIELD PROJECT arrives on March 3 on DVD and VOD.