‘Waking David’ opens our eyes to the price of family secrets
Directed by: Kevin Nash
Written by: Kevin Nash, Kristy Bruce, Shane Bruce, and Harriet Madeley
Starring: Harriet Madeley, Kristy Bruce, Shane Bruce, Mark Katz, Paul Mooney, and Kathryn Worth
“Waking David” - “Communication is paramount to the success of any relationship.”
“Does she know about David?”
Scarlett (Harriet Madeley) is a young, successful professional. This American – while only in her mid-20s – is speaking at a conference in Great Britain, sporting a head-worn microphone like a pop star and commanding the stage, as she is reciting the aforementioned quote about communication.
Quite frankly, who can argue? If we look back at our own failed relationships, the lack of meaningful communication could be a prime reason that stymied or doomed them.
“Waking David” is about the lack of communication within an entire family. A family constructed by some emotionally damaged members, and the current state of kinship-disarray is exasperated due to massive shortages of honest discourse. Director Kevin Nash introduces us to this mystery, one in which every on-screen character – apparently – knows the answer to it, except for Scarlett. Due to Scarlett’s nature, however, she is determined to find answers to her open questions. Since we, the audience, seek similar answers, this places Scarlett in a valuable lead protagonist role.
Scarlett is resourceful, educated and optimistic, and while in the UK - for some reason - she stops at Julie’s (Shane Bruce) home, with her luggage and two welcomed bottles of celebratory alcohol in tow. She is staying at Julie’s for a couple days, but why? Curiously, Julie greets Scarlett with a fairly cool reception. She is in her 40s or 50s, and they do not appear to be friends or close family. One might immediately conclude that Julie is renting out an upstairs bedroom via Airbnb, but the film quickly dismisses that possibility.
Actually, Scarlett arrives in Julie’s home for answers about David (whose role will not be revealed in this review), but this Brit is not willing to share many details about him. Julie’s daughter, Amy (Kristy Bruce), feels equally unhelpful. The same goes for Julie’s boyfriend, Simon (Mark Katz), and her sister, Helen (Kathryn Worth).
Why? A deep, dark secret is buried here, and Scarlett - the wide-eyed, idealist – feels the family’s hostile protection in keeping it classified, but she soon demands the reasons for hush-hush surrounding her very simple, straightforward inquiries.
“Waking David” contains a battle of wills and a clash of cultures. Scarlett is in a foreign land, and Julie, Amy and Simon treat her like an unwelcome solicitor who suspiciously asks for donations.
Nash effectively sets an uneasy, anxious tone in the close quarters of Julie’s home, and Scarlett and the audience feel it. His camera finds small nooks or sits around tables, like another member of the family, as the picture almost feels like a documentary, capturing frank conversations of a family on edge. Argumentative conversations – between Julie, Amy and Simon (and to a lesser extent, Helen and her husband, Greg (Paul Mooney)) - can be heard through thin walls, and the exchanges are centered around Scarlett’s intrusion into their lives. This young American has apparently opened old wounds that were never healed but covered by several layers of bandages, barricaded by wood planks and overlaid in concrete.
Unfortunately, when one buries their problems, they seep out and reveal themselves in very negative ways, and Amy and Julie clearly demonstrate this phenomenon. Kristy and Shane Bruce are terrific as Amy and Julie, who – both - desperately grasp for emotional tools to grant them refuge during this time of unexpected burden. They just need to get through Scarlett’s weekend visit, but the damage inflicted by this family secret can be written all over their faces. Julie seems like a thoughtful, considerate person, but appears to feel the frustration of making repeated bad choices over the past few decades. Her latest bad choice is Simon, who would rather complain about the world and grab a drink than address Julie in a supportive way.
With Amy, Nash supports a very stark contrast to Scarlett. Through the apparent advantages of growing up in a healthy environment, Scarlett thrives in life and embraces her emotional strength and education. She sees the world as filled with opportunities, while Amy – who is about the same age – completely feels the opposite. Amy wears dark clothes, smokes and exudes a constant resentment towards anyone within eyeshot. Only in her mid-20s, Amy sees no positive prospects in her immediate future or over the next 60 years, and the last place that she wishes to spend her time is in her mother’s home.
“Waking David” is an uncomfortable – but very absorbing – journey in the confines of one house over a few, difficult hours. Nash escorts us through the broken limbs of a teetering family tree and slowly reveals the distant windstorm that snapped its spirit so many years ago. All of the actors convincingly jump into this tangled web, as Madeley’s Scarlett attempts to discover the ultimate truth. In this case, an alarm of frank, direct communication might wake a muddled history, and this family’s future success depends on it.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.