The Minute You Wake up Dead was directed by Michael Mailer (Heart of Champions, Blind), written by Mailer and Timothy Holland (The Road Less Traveled), and stars Jaimie Alexander (Last Seen Alive, Collision), Cole Hauser (Yellowstone, Acts of Violence), Darren Mann (Giant Little Ones, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), and Morgan Freeman (Paradise Highway, Invictus). It’s about a stockbroker who gets involved with a dangerous conspiracy and is threatened by its consequences unless he can figure it all out.
The Plot: Just about everything in The Minute You Wake up Dead is as pedestrian as possible. Both writers seemed to have ignored the idea of quality control, and instead chose to pile on as many contrivances and cliches as they could before the script got too thick.
Longtime stockbroker Russ (Hauser) is in a bit of trouble with the locals of a small town, and it doesn’t get better when he’s met by Sheriff Fowler (Freeman) and warned about the risk he’s currently taking by staying in town. Mailer and Holland start with this cliche, prefaced by an intro that muses on sin – which itself becomes a cliche because the script doesn’t do much with the religious messaging – and continue with banality as Russ and neighbor Delaine (Alexander) begin a fling that’s stopped by her father’s murder.
One interesting move in The Minute You Wake up Dead (and possibly the only one) is Mailer’s decision to reveal Lucius (Mann) as the killer and Delaine as a cohort to move forward towards making the film into a web of relations right after the murder. Problem is that the options the script presents are all dull; from pinning the crime on Russ, to a violent conclusion that the audience is at least partially privy to thanks to an in-media res opening. The movie makes all the right choices from an accessibility perspective, but it’s got nothing to its own name as it has all the broad strokes of a made-for-TV picture.
The Characters: Again, the writers took cliches and did nothing with them. No one has much of a personality, development is circumstantial, and none of them are likable. Acting doesn’t help much either, as the principal cast (barring Alexander) are phoning in their performances for most of The Minute You Wake up Dead.
Russ has recently(?) moved back into town, and he’s wishing he hadn’t because of information that he supplied to many of the population. In a dinner scene with Delaine and her father, he says he’s struggling too, but the director does a bad job of indicating this by switching perspectives until the third act. Maybe this is supposed to be a lie, but Russ never shows much evidence in favor of either side. He’s not really remorseful and not much of anything else either, as most of his downtime is spent watching B-movies and drinking beer.
Delaine is a generic small-town girl who never got the chance to make her mark in the family and career realm. Since her father had cancer, which went into remission, she decided to stay and care for him, which became difficult because of her meagre pay from working at the local diner. Her ability to switch her emotions on and off could’ve been interesting, but both sides of her character are cartoony renditions of cold-bloodedness instead of subliminal changes.
Lucius is about as smart as his name is subtle. Of course, he scrapes by doing odd jobs and working at the same diner as Delaine and is in trouble with a couple of loan sharks. Lucius also Delaine with the same fate as his mark even though that’d cut him out of his fee, and his time in bed with her, in another cliche that the writers included. The Minute You Wake up Dead doesn’t struggle with characters, since that would mean that there was an effort going into them when there wasn’t.
The Crime: While it at first seems like the director was going to focus on making a mystery instead of a straightforward crime film because of some calls that get made to Russ, the movie opts to tell the watcher everything just as it gains some traction.
After Russ comes back to town and the company merger he advised the folks on investing in fell through, he starts getting angry looks from passersby, yelled at in public, and receiving calls asking the titular question: “where will you be the minute you wake up dead?”. These calls raise suspicions acceptably, but Carl’s murder comes shortly after, making them a moot point; though that’s not to say they were purposeful at all, as the theory of Delaine’s dad’s death is the most sensical one.
Not three minutes pass before The Minute You Wake up Dead spills the beans. They’re all soybeans too, so the taste isn’t good. Avoiding the chance to do something interesting, the writers elaborate that a gambling problem incited the murder instead of poor advice, making the time spent establishing the main character’s predicament a waste.
Procedural elements are still for some reason included, despite Fowler being able to put the pieces together after questioning Russ’s caller. Some thriller elements follow, including a debt roll-over to Delaine, as the movie hasn’t reached feature length and Fowler doesn’t have the evidence he needs, but since we know what we need to, it’s a margin duller than passable, which describes all of the crime facets of the movie.
The Technics: The Minute You Wake up Dead is perfunctorily put together but lacks polish in its final form. Slipups happen and odd directorial choices are made, but the movie is largely interchangeable from its low-budget, token theatrical release siblings.
Michael Mailer isn’t the best helmer. His direction doesn’t do many positive things for the movie, which is framed at a low level. For one, the crime that carries the movie forward isn’t shown on-screen, even though there’s nothing the filmmaker wants to hide, and the aforementioned thriller conventions aren’t given any flair. A car chase in the last twenty minutes of the movie is deathly dull, with a subpar backing track, a mostly flat setting, generic camerawork, and actors who don’t do much to sell the illusion of speed.
All of the direction is like this: mostly palatable direction with occasional notes worth taking for the wrong reasons. Scripting doesn’t do much either, as the worn-down tropes that make up The Minute You Wake up Dead are elevated by increasingly improbable twists that don’t have much of a foundation to stand on aside from the framed narrative, which still doesn’t add anything to the feature.
Production values are generally mediocre. Sound, settings, camera work, and the very few effects are all middling at best. Russ’s house has some character to it in the form of a garage covered in straw and a fridge within it that contains nothing but beer, but that’s it for highlights.
While it may boast a good cast, nothing about the movie really stands out. The Minute You Wake up Dead is a weak movie that descends into being a bad one thanks to its insistence on using every trope, stumbling on a few of them before reaching its conclusion.
The Minute You Wake up Dead is available on VOD and Digital platforms via Lionsgate. It will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on December 13th.