Wake Up (2023)

Directed by RKSS (Roadkill Superstars, aka trio François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) and written by Alberto Marini, this merciless slasher features a cast of idealistic Gen Z activists who are violently picked off by a deranged security guard after they sneak into a huge furniture store to stage an environmental protest. While it touches on some very current social topics - environmental activism, nonviolent civil disobedience, social media, and arguably even corporate employee vetting processes - at heart, Wake Up is an old-school slasher, with a simple premise that is well executed (sorry!). Extraneous frills like characterisation, motivation and backstories are trimmed right down, leaving a lean, mean, cat-and-mouse narrative, with brutal violence and a certain sense of hopelessness running throughout.

When the store closes in the evening, the gang come out of hiding to spray graffiti and deface displays with bags of blood procured from a butcher. They film everything to post to social media in an effort to expose the company's harmful environmental impact. After an encounter with the two security guards - actually two brothers; one a heavy drinker, the other a burly 'primitive hunting' fanatic - results in an accidental death, things become very taut indeed. It's now a life or death fight for survival as the hulking security guard sets deadly traps, taunts his prey over the Tannoy system, and closes in for the kill.

Like RKSS's previous titles Turbo Kid (2015) and Summer of '84 (2018), Wake Up features younger characters pitted against ruthless and relentless authority figures. There's something like socio-political commentary at play in the inevitable collision of a group of diverse 'woke' youths (whose actions are clearly modelled on the likes of Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil) and the middle-aged, white, working-class men who work for the large corporate company. Marini's screenplay sidesteps the worrying trend in tabloid (and some mainstream) media of demonising and dehumanising activist groups, instead presenting us with the actual people behind the headlines: in this case, a group of young, naïve, idealistic people who want to make a positive change in the world. None of the characters are fleshed out beyond a few traits that help us tell them apart, but they are still believable as a group of young people who have made certain choices with the best of intentions, and those choices have backfired spectacularly. When the shit hits the fan, they are vulnerable, and completely out of their depth. As Kevin, the hulking security guard, Northern Irish actor Turlough Convery is immensely imposing, giving us momentary flashes of vulnerability and desperation to up the ante.

With its giant retail shopping centre setting, Wake Up has distinct echoes of The Initiation (1984) and Chopping Mall (1986), and in its brutal depiction of humans as trophy prey, it echoes Wilderness (2006) and gruesome pre-code horror The Most Dangerous Game (1932). It is also peppered with striking visuals, like the animal masks worn by the activists, and the scene where the gang are doused in black-light fluorescent paint so Kevin can hunt them in the dark when he cuts the power. A bleak, nihilistic film with buckets of suspense, chaos and carnage. 

Wake Up screened at Glasgow FrightFest on Friday 8th March.

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