Concerned about her sister Kate’s safety and sanity after the loss of her child, Bec and her boyfriend enter her sister’s house and find themselves trapped in her personal Hell. They discover her locked in a room performing séances reaching out to a mysterious “visitor” through a Ouija board. Unable to escape his grasp, the spirit draws them deeper into his dark, disturbing world of madness that involves Wyke Wreake (an Old English name meaning Valley of the Witches).
With their second feature titled Wyke Wreake (aka Amnesiac), Hunger Cult Films are well on their way to establishing themselves as an up and coming independent company that produces thoughtful, original, provocative horror-thrillers. Written by Andrew Rutley and directed by Martin Rutley, Wyke Wreake delves into the madness behind a haunting or, in this case, the mad spirits summoned by a séance using a Ouija board. The film weaves threads of those summoning the paranormal forces and the ghost that reaches back into the fabric of reality. The script plays with emotion and motivation, cause and effect. The leads, most notably Jon Stoley as “the visitor,” take the material very seriously, sometimes too much so sacrificing entertainment for theatrics. Even so, while they are engaging, their efforts are undermined by odd sound design and poor audible choices. Much of the film in inaudible and difficult to understand. That combined with an ambitious and complicated plot make Wyke Wreake a difficult pill to swallow.
The story behind Wyke Wreake is heavy on exposition but is unique and intriguing, full of original ideas surrounding concepts based on the old English legend of Wyke Wreake or Valley of the Witches. In many cases characters speak in extended soliloquies that mask or color their emotions and intent providing the film with a deep theatrical, stage-like presentation as the characters are often speaking out loud for the benefit of the audience and not necessarily the film nor the story. It’s an interesting approach but inconsistently successful. The film begins with three friends, sisters Bec (Edwina Lea) and Kate (Gemma Deerfield) along with Bec’s boyfriend Thom (Leon Florentine), sitting in a small, disturbingly decorated room performing a séance. Bec and Thom are concerned for Kate’s safety and sanity as she refuses to let go of her paranormal obsession and her sorrow from a recent tragic event. Kate is convinced she has established contact with the spirit of Alex Clifford (Jon Stoley) who promises to hold the secrets Kate desires. Both Kate’s and Alex’s stories are inter-weaved as the film progresses, until their story become one with surprising and emotionally driven results. For the most part, the action is confined to the single room, at one point the room obsessively decorated for Kate’s séance, at one point the same room reverts back to the home of Alex Clifford. However, when Alex is sharing his back story and motivation, the film allows him to wonder the countryside, often covered in blood. The story ends with an interesting twist that redefines the opening elements that affects each of the primary characters quite dramatically.
The film, like most low budget, independent features, benefits from a small, concise cast. However, the chemistry between Bec and Thom isn’t entirely or well established or strong enough to draw much empathy or sympathy for their situation. Gemma Deerfield is effectively driven as the obsessed Kate but is typically relegated to sitting in front of the Ouija board for most of the first half of the film. Of the crew, Jon Stoley is the stand out and the lead of the film as Alex, the visitor. Between the two, Deerfield and Stoley, there is an ample amount of crazy to fill the frame. Stoley has a very stoic presence and a hypnotic, lyrical delivery that is engaging. Throughout Wyke Wreake he suffers from a grave case of permanent sour brow, very serious, very intense. But, the subject matter demands it, and Stoley, along with Deerfield, deliver.
The unfortunate thing about Wyke Wreake is that most of the efforts with the script and the acting are nearly completely destroyed by the odd sound design choices. For US audiences, the accents alone can be challenging; however, they are far more discernible than those found in other films by comparison, such as Attack the Block which often requires subtitles even though it is in English. Added to this, the film’s score overpowers the dialog during key events. In other cases, the dialog itself is augmented through filters in attempts to provide demonic or paranormal enhancements to the character’s voice. Instead of enhancing the film, these augmentations make the already challenging story far too difficult to follow. It’s a shame, really, because buried in all the noise is a story, and a film, that is well worth the investment to follow the structure and exposition.
Wyke Wreake is a promising but ultimately unsatisfying thriller-horror film from Hunger Cult Films. It’s challenging, intelligent and provoking script is mired by a over baked sound track that buries large chunks of the film making much of what is heard inaudible. In a time when most films, studio and independent alike, tend to dwell in the established and well worn horror tropes, Wyke Wreake is refreshing in its efforts to try something new, in approach and in structure. Jon Stoley continues to prove, much like he did in Where the Dogs Divide Her, that his is an interesting and unique actor with a stage-like flair and focused intensity. The film really kicks in toward its second half when the intent and purpose of the script begins to take shape. Regrettably, the film is too choppy in its execution and the script is a bit confounded and heavy on exposition allowing the emotion and drive to get lost along the way often lessening the film’s impact. Regardless, Wyke Wreake remains a solid effort and an intriguing entry into psychological horror.
2 out of 5
Wyke Wreake (2013)