Picture life in a remote and idyllic coastal village, lush with greenery and poetic in the lazy back and forth of its bordering sea. Here, the drag of time complements the ponderous quiet. The sweet songs of the birds, and not the din of the traffic, adorn the crisp air. In such an environment, it is easy to fall prey to romantic entrapments, or just plain lust – in most cases one can’t tell the difference. Every addition to the sparse population is an object of open and unabashed interest, a promise of a break from the norm, an escape door. The irony intertwines in a strange dance: the incoming look to escape to the serenity, and the locals look to escape a life that has become banal to them. Add personal tragedy and trauma to the mix, and you have a compelling story of how situations, circumstances, and environments shape man’s actions.
Sleeper’s Wake, based on a novel with a similar title by Alistair Morgan, is a South African movie with pretty much this setting. John Wraith is in his mid-forties and has just lost his wife and daughter in a terrible car accident. His trauma feels worse as he fell asleep on the wheel, causing the accident. He retreats to the remote coastal village, where he gets involved with a family mourning its own loss: Roelf, his teenage daughter Jackie and her younger brother Simon. They are reeling from the loss of their wife and mother in a horrific home robbery. A shared trauma, an idyllic environment, and various forms of escapism lead John to fall for Jackie’s audacious seductive games, and what unfolds, albeit painstakingly, is a gripping psychological thriller.
You wouldn’t enjoy this movie should you watch it immediately after the latest Fast & Furious, as the plot reveals itself slowly, which is remarkable since the movie runs for just about eighty-eight minutes. A good deal of effort is made to induce a touch of poesy in the screenplay – picturesque scenes are displayed for a tad longer than normally, accompanied by soft piano soundtracks. Perhaps this is necessary as the plot appeals primarily to emotion and psyche. The overall effect is almost literary, almost because the development of the plot is somehow disjointed and doesn’t flow as effortlessly as one would expect.
There’s slight disappointment however in character development. Jackie’s brother Simon only plays a peripheral role and later disappears, presumed to have escaped from their controlling father Roelf. The movie ends without him being found. It is also not clear what role a domestic worker plays after she appears at John’s house seeking employment, and, apart from chancing in on Jackie and John after one of their romps, she virtually fades away.
The acting is above average, particularly by Jay Anstey (Jackie), who has made a notable transition from acting in the SABC TV drama Isidingo to the big screen. Lionel Newton’s portrayal of the troubled John is also profound.
If you have a taste for the slightly morbid and unorthodox, as well as a literary taste, this could be a movie for you. I would recommend it as a fairly good flick.