Hebrews 9:22 states that “In fact, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In a small Mississippi town, stockbroker Russ (Cole Hauser) is dealing with a reckoning of sorts. He’s hated. Why? He convinced many in this town to invest in something that ended up falling through. The only people that seem to like and respect him are his next door neighbors, the elderly Carl (David Dahlgren) and Carl’s daughter, diner waitress Delanie (Jaimie Alexander). Delanie and Russ confide in each other emotionally and romantically. Russ holds steely in the face of turmoil, even as he begins receiving threatening messages asking him “Where will you be the minute you wake up dead?”
Days later, Carl is brutally murdered and no one knows why. Sheriff Fowler (Morgan Freeman) is on the beat. He and Russ initially believe that Russ was the target and the wrong home was intruded upon. But going deeper into the crime, the Sheriff finds that not all is what it seems on the surface.
The Minute You Wake Up Dead opens with that biblical quote on screen and then transitions into a monologue delivered by Freeman about morality and what brings people to the edge to make the choices they do. A phenomenal setup, no, but it is a passable one and the movie starts off OK enough. After the 15 minute mark, all good will is wrung out and the remaining 75 minutes end up being rather laborious for a multitude of reasons.
Director Michael Mailer has more of a career as a producer than as a filmmaker, but he’s not green behind the camera; this film marks his third directing effort. There is an element of authenticity in the feature, as it was actually shot in Mississippi where the struggles of that state are very well known. They are struggles that Mailer and his co-writer Timothy Holland lean into starting with the aforementioned opening monologue, positing that poor environments are the drivers to bringing people—if not an entire town—to questionable moral decisions. Technically, it’s functional, though definitely resembling something found on Lifetime or Hallmark instead of on a silver screen.
Many twists are found in The Minute You Wake Up Dead. Some predictable, some incomprehensible and included for surprise while forgoing logic. The worst thing about the entire film is that it fails to make any of its characters interesting or likable. Likable people aren’t a requirement in any feature, particularly one clearly interested in playing in the film-noir sandbox. But weighty and magnetic people are necessary to creating a multilayered story. Greed ends up being a major theme connecting nearly everyone, but as the only real theme, it ends up making most of the movie uninspired.
The uninspired-ness carries over to the cast, which is either serviceable (Hauser and Alexander), sleepy (sorry, Freeman) or subpar (any of the side characters with bad Southern accents are unintentionally hilarious). Within scenes, characters clash tonally, and it is hard to determine if the movie is trying to stay seriously straight or desiring to be more black comedy-focused. Perhaps the latter would have at least given more necessary juice.
Cool title name and good beginning aside, little if anything moves the needle enough to go out of the way and catch The Minute You Wake Up Dead. As it tends to be for movies of this ilk, there is a reason why these are quickly shuttered to VOD. The Minute You Wake Up Dead is currently available to rent on all major streaming services.
Photo credits are courtesy of Lionsgate.
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