A Wake is a film that like others before it, talks about the all too familiar but uncomfortable topic of death, grief, and how people deal with it, especially when it concerns a young person.
The plot for A Wake follows a Christian family still grieving the tragic loss of their teenage boy ‘Mitchell’. Mitchell, like many teenage boys today was going through a lot. He was depressed and barely getting through life as it was. We never meet Mitchell as an individual but instead, we get to know him from the perspective of his remaining living family members. The film opens with Mason dreaming about Mitchell and believing that Mitchell is trying to contact him somehow, next we see him in counselling with the family pastor. Not comforted by the pastor’s words, he decides to go to more extreme means to connect with Mitchell by visiting a psychic and subsequently buying an Ouija Board to try and “hear” Mitchell.
His sister Molly, the youngest in the family, decides to have a wake in his honor, long after the burial has taken place so as for everyone to truly process their emotions about his passing. She is a precocious preteen and even aspires to be a priest when she grows up. She’s the type to obsess over every little detail of everything. When we meet her, she is coming home from the grocery store with her mother and grandmother obsessing over one of the 20-something things that she is sure they forgot to buy for the wake that evening. She knows a secret about Mitchell that most of his family doesn’t.
Their older sister Megan, estranged from the family and living in the city arrives to make an already difficult time more difficult for the family. She is dealing with her pain and turns to drink and promiscuity to help her through it.
Jameson, Mitchell’s lover and closest friend is the only non-member of the family (apart from the pastor and his wife) to be invited to the wake, an act that surprises him as much as it does the rest of the family. He seems to be reasonably put together despite having a ton of grief in his own life also.
As the wake starts, and people are paying tribute to Mitchell, the family begins to hear more and more surprising truths about Mitchell. His relationship with Jameson, his mental state, and the agonizing final moments before his impending death. All this just causes more dispute and dysfunction between the already broken family. The fact that Megan (the black sheep of the family) is the one who divulges this information only serves to make things worse. Mitchell’s death was officially ruled as an accidental overdose, though Megan seems to believe this may not be the case and goes to great lengths to try and prove herself right.
Everyone in the family has a unique, but an ultimately ineffective and unhealthy way of trying to deal with the pain of Mitchell’s loss, from Ouija boards to conspiracy theories about the manner of his death, no one seems to know how to work through it.
As the family is a religious one, naturally, talks of the afterlife and Mitchell’s place in it are continually debated throughout the film. It’s an extra part of the grieving process religious people tend to go through; is my loved one in heaven smiling with God or burning away in hell for all eternity?
The film does a very good job of exploring the themes of death, grief, the afterlife, and religion without ever getting convoluted or preachy. It’s a film with a story for all to relate to as we all grieved the loss of a loved one.