STUDIO: Dark Sky Films
MSRP: $18.99
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

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The Pitch

It’s like Pet Semetary if it had a strong Wicker Man vibe and a subtle Don’t Look Now tone.

The Humans

Written by David Keating and Brendan McCarthy. Directed by David Keating. Acted by Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly, Ruth McCabe, Brian Gleeson and Amelia Crowley.

The Nutshell

When their daughter Alice is brutally torn to shreds and killed by a vicious dog, Patrick (Gillen) and Louise (Birthistle) move to a small town called Wakewood in the Irish countryside. As they settle in, they are approached by Arthur (Spall), one of the town elders, who has a proposition for them: If they promise to stay in Wakewood forever and become a true part of the town, he can bring their daughter back to life for three days. It’s something he does for all the town folk as a part of Wakewood tradition. But sometimes when things are brought back from death, they come back a little bit strange and Alice is no exception.

"This isn't part of the ritual, I just like how it feels on my hand."

The Lowdown

I went into this movie excited and skeptical at the same time. Excited because of my deep and abiding love for Aidan Gillen (since The Wire) and Timothy Spall (since Still Crazy) and because I think the new and re-vamped Hammer Films has an interesting and different sensibility when it comes to the films they are choosing to make (as opposed to companies like Platinum Dunes and Dimension). I haven’t seen The Resident or The Woman in Black yet, but I thought Let Me In was excellent and, even though it’s in some ways unnecessary, I know several people who would have never seen Let the Right One In without it. I was skeptical because the plot sounded like something I’d seen a dozen times before in projects that ranged from classic chillers to pieces of shit that made me want to blind myself. If they were going to rock the old “Bringing Back A Loved One From the Dead Who Comes Back Creepy and Evil” plot, then Hammer was going to need to bring something different to the table. They succeeded in that respect but I’m not sure I can call the film entirely successful, either.

By far the best thing about Wake Wood is the performances by Gillen, Spall and Birthistle. Spall brings such a fascinating blend of kindliness and danger to his work that it’s not hard to imagine why he’s one of the more high profile character actors working today. He gets typecast so frequently as losers (both pathetic and evil) that it’s nice to see him play a character that’s assured and well spoken for a change. Gillen and Birthistle are extremely believable as a married couple and carry the entire movie on the silent looks they give each other and the still moments of grief that bind them together. They are slightly let down by the script, which doesn’t give them much room to breathe as characters or give us more of a sense of who they were as a couple before their daughter died. Little Alice is played by Ella Connolly who, while fine in her work, doesn’t stray too far from the stereotypical “creepy little girl” performance we’ve seen a thousand times before.

"Now you'll see why they call me Littlefinger."

The visual style and color palate that director David Keating brings to the film is fantastic and that that’s what makes it a double shame that more time wasn’t spent on the script. Wake Wood has such an elegant build that when the fit starts hitting the shan it’s more than a little bit of a letdown when it becomes a fairly rote slasher flick complete with face stabbings and dog skinnings. Plus, the ending itself has such a large piece of flawed logic that it makes the final minutes almost tragic for how flawed the concept is. I have to talk about it but I have to drop a spoiler warning first because it’s only polite.

Spoilers Ahoy………..

The whole reason their little girl comes back evil is because (when Spall is initially telling them he can bring Alice back) he says that whoever is brought back has to have been dead for less than a year or else bad shit will happen. The grieving couple doesn’t care, they just want to see their little girl again. So they tell Spall that she’s been dead for 11 months even though she’s been dead for a year and change. Alice comes back and is cool for the first day, but on day two and three she kills a pony and a dog and a handful of innocent townsfolk. Long story marginally shorter, the mom (who is now miraculously a few days pregnant even though she thought she couldn’t get knocked up anymore) knocks the girl out and buries her (which is how you put the revived dead back to sleep after the third day), but Alice drags her down into the earth with her where they both disappear while Aidan Gillen screams and paws at the dirt. Jump to an unspecified amount of time later and Gillen is in the shower with his wife who has been brought back and they’re all happy and making out and stuff. Oh, and she’s mega pregnant and Gillen has a bunch of surgical tools set up by the bed and he looks into the camera with his “the smartest thing you ever did was distrust me” face. Credits.

Here’s my problem…s: Alice killed all of the town folk because of the lies Gillen and his wife told Spall. If they had been honest and said “oh snap, she’s been dead over a year but good looking out all the same”, then no one would have died and life would have moved on in Wake Wood like it always did. Since they lied (and everyone in town knows they did) why would they allow Gillen to resurrect his wife after she died? Why would they let him have another go at it after completely disregarding the rules the first time? Wouldn’t he be the last person they’d let play their reindeer games? Also, how the hell is his wife nine months pregnant now when she was like three days pregnant when she died? Did the baby grow while she was dead and, if so, is that really a baby he should feel the need to cut out of her right away? Maybe he might want to let that little undead fucker gestate for a bit longer until it decides to come out by it’s own damn self? Oh yeah, and Alice (who had her throat ripped out by a dog) is given a stray dog they just found right after she comes back. Really? I can understand giving her a puppy or something, but a fully grown dog that’s basically a stray? Is she really ready to play with dogs again? When my cousin had his bottom lip bitten off by a horse his parents still loved horses and kept them, but they weren’t as eager to send him out into the pasture, if you get what I’m saying.

End Spoilers 

Ahhhh, the dead eyed stare of youth!

All of those issues might sound like nitpicks, but they basically defy the rules and logic of the world that the script created. If I had bought into that world more then maybe I would have been more forgiving when it came to plot holes and logic flaws and I wouldn’t have focused so much on the things the movie did wrong instead of the things it does right. It’s a shockingly violent film (mostly to animals) and has a few chilling moments that are almost enough to give this a recommendation regardless of all my reservations. I can’t though. It’s worth watching for the work the actors put in, but you won’t tell your friends about it or even remember it in a week or so. It’s a creepy kid movie and I’m pretty sure you know exactly what you’re going to get when you put it in: a creepy kid doing weird and unsettling things while grown ups look on in horror for 90 minutes (see also: the first time I discovered my penis). It doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it doesn’t exactly send it back to being square, either.

The Package

There’s almost 15 minutes of deleted scenes which really don’t add to the final picture in any way worth noting. The transfer to Blu-Ray looks fantastic and there was creepies and crawlies coming at me from all directions with the excellent 5.1 Surround. Hammer did a really nice job with the technical aspects of this release, it’s too bad they didn’t give us any behind the scenes footage or anything to show they actually cared about their product.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars