In the wake of a horrible accident, Alice and her mother reckon with the death of Alice’s sister Jess, which has left the family devastated. Their grief is complicated by the fact that Alice can’t remember what happened leading up to the accident. But she feels a pervasive sense of guilt, especially because her mother is distant and cold at times.
But as Alice slowly goes about her recovery, shards of memory begin to come to the surface. As the pieces come together, it paints a picture that leads Alice to a devastating revelation.
Written and directed by Stephanie Jaclyn, this powerful, finely wrought short drama captures the intersection of grief and memory, as a small family attempts to move through a tragic loss. Shrouded in moody, shadowy cinematography and soft, hazy textures, the film visually evokes the strange sense of airless yet weighty suspension that Alice experiences as she tries to make sense of the accident and its effect on her life, home and mother. Though she lives with her mom, they’re often framed as two figures occupying different planes of space, barely relating.
That distance seems to leave Alice stranded emotionally and worried that her mother blames her for the accident, especially as bits and pieces of the events leading into the accident begin to come back to her. Toggling between past and present can be tricky for shorts, but the writing and editing masterfully weave back and forth, transitioning through sensory details. Slowly, both viewers and Alice construct a fuller picture: two sisters who wrangle over their differences in temperament, a late-night party, a fateful drive home.
But as the logistics of the accident are laid out, so is the emotional heart of the story, revealing how the more free-spirited Jess and a more anxious Alice slowly come together and find common ground throughout their night together. Actors Jess Kuss and Daisy Anderson — as Alice and Jess, respectively, — are believable siblings, with a telling mix of affection and annoyance. Kuss particularly turns in a powerfully subtle yet piercing performance, both as the girl coming out of her shell and the sister who must face a cataclysmic loss — and come to terms with her own role in it.
“In the Wake” is essentially a psychological mystery, told with a restraint that becomes almost dream-like as its revelations unfold. Its storytelling lays out its pieces, one by one, pulling the audience into a fever dream of youth and abandon, until the final picture is revealed, essentially answering the question that has framed the narrative throughout. But it also gives rise to others, and viewers will wonder how Alice will pull herself out of this new place of devastation and sorrow. Grief is a new frontier for Alice and her mother, spiraling between its stages with each new truth.