After She Wakes (2020) – movie review

After She Wakes. Image credit: Courtesy of IMDb After She Wakes. Image credit: Courtesy of IMDb

Brought to you by Gravitas Ventures, which is generally not a good sign, After She Wakes is the directorial debut from writer-director David Arthur Clark.

This is a supernatural/psychological horror film which revolves around the concept of night terrors, just like many indie horror flicks seem to be doing nowadays. After She Wakes is now available on digital platforms and on Tubi.

Continue reading and check my final grade below…


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My review is also available on IMDb – After She Wakes (2020)

Check out the official list of 2020 horror films I’ve watched

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After She Wakes – plot and thematic concepts

After She Wakes is a very short movie with its 77-minute-long runtime, where an isolated mother (Danni, played by Hannah Ward) and young daughter (Cassie, played by Stella Carlish in her acting debut) deal with the grief of a horrific tragedy. Their relationship is quite tense, and they clearly struggle to communicate with each other, but things become even worse when Danni develops terrifying sleep disruptions that manifest into a sinister reality.

Of course, one of the driving forces of After She Wakes is the theme of grief, which is explored on a surface level but it’s still impactful enough to create conflict and make the characters quite well-rounded. Directly linked to grief is the concept of night terrors and sleep paralysis, which are the elements that bring horror to the forefront in the film. Finally, the movie develops a narrative that takes place over two timelines: on one hand, we follow Danni and Cassie dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy in the present; on the other, we witness Danni’s relationship with her husband Michael (Micah Joe Parker) right after the tragedy occurred.

Creative execution and effective storytelling

Having well-defined and compelling themes in a movie is commendable, but they need to be explored and assessed in a competent and exhilarating way in order to become effective. Fortunately, the presentation in After She Wakes enhances such subject matters in a satisfying way, for the most part.

This is a very thought-out film in its presentation: for example, the two different timelines are presented with different aspect ratio and cinematography, which is done seamlessly and comes off as more mature and artful than simply having title cards literally explaining the timeline to the audience. However, the most effective circumstances in which the presentation significantly improves the movie are represented by the night terror sequences: they’re truly scary thanks to the clever use of split screen and eerie sound design and foley. In fact, the visual representation of these instances of sleep paralysis is quite creative and effective, especially when compared to other similar indie horror flicks such as Mara or Awoken.

Characters and performances

As I said before, the concept of grief affects the relationship between the three major characters (Danni, Cassie and Micheal) in After She Wakes. Every conflict in this movie feels quite genuine, thus everything horrific that happens to the characters is both more unsettling and more emotionally impactful.

Danni, who’s the clear lead in the movie, is played very well by Hannah Ward: she offers a solid performance that’s miles better than most performances in low-budget indie horror. Unfortunately, the acting by the young girl who plays Cassie and the man who plays Michael is not on par, as their performances range from decent to quite unacceptable.

Issues that needed to be fixed

Speaking of flaws with After She Wakes, aside from some of the acting, this movie features some truly bad editing and moments where the score is overbearing to the point of covering what the characters are saying. This might depend on bad sound-mixing more than on the soundtrack itself. In addition, five minutes of the movie are spent to pay homage to Night of the Living Dead: given that this had no relevance on the story, it feels like five minutes of After She Wakes are wasted on a pointless reference.

However, the biggest problem with After She Wakes is that it feels extremely repetitive: the movie keeps repeating the same structure, comprised of drama in the day, horror in the night, jump to the past, and repeat. I really wish the structure of the scenes was more varied, as the movie would gain rewatchability value.

Conclusions

Despite dreading to watch this movie beforehand, After She Wakes turned out to be a pleasant surprise. This is not a great horror film, but it’s a very well-made movie considering its non-existent budget and the inexperience of everyone involved.

I can see how some people might find this movie to be rather dull and mediocre, but I personally saw a lot of potential talent in this writer-director, and I’m now very excited to see what other films David Arthur Clark will make next.

Rating 6

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