The Film: Wake Wood
The Players: Directed by David Keating. Starring: Aiden Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall and Ella Connolly as “Murder Childe”.
The Premise: Have you seen Pet Sematary? It’s basically that movie with a dash of Wicker Man. A couple (Gillen, Birthistle) lose their young daughter (Connolly) when she is killed brutally by a dog. The couple retreat to the serene country community known as Wake Wood, where they resume their respective professions as a veterinarian and a druggist. But things aren’t quite what they seem at Wake Wood. One night after their car stalls on a country road, the wife witnesses a strange pagan ritual being conducted by the town patriarch (Timothy Spall) in which full grown people are “birthed” from clay. The husband believes she is cracking from the intense pain of her mourning, but after some investigation it is revealed to them that the citizens of Wake Wood know a ritual which can bring dead loved ones back to life. But there are conditions: the dead can only return for three days, the dead cannot leave the township of Wake Wood, and the dead must have been in their grave for less than a year. The couple agrees to these terms, and their daughter is brought back. But it soon becomes apparent to all involved that something is terribly wrong with the daughter, and a nightmarish series of events unfold that result in mayhem and death.
Is It Good: Yeah, I thought so. Wake Wood is not a terribly original story, but it’s a story well told. The actors are top notch; you’ve no doubt seen Timothy Spall in numerous roles by now, but the rest of the cast is also exceptional, with Gillen and Birthistle really selling the soul-wrenching pain of a couple who have lost their little girl. Gillen is becoming a familiar face due to prominent roles in The Wire and Game of Thrones, and I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with this guy. Despite his distinctive face he has a chameleonic quality and within moments of seeing him onscreen I immediately buy the character he is playing. I haven’t seen Birthistle before but she is equally believable and has a more strenuous role as the grieving wife. Plus she’s quite fetching.
The screenplay though derivative is solid and you get the feeling that there may have been a bit of improv on set. The dialogue has that quiet and naturalistic feel that you see in a lot of foreign and independent productions these days, and the camera work and cinematography echo that almost documentary sensibility. Even though I knew where the story was heading I was always riveted, and despite the film’s intentionally slow build I never found it dull. For this type of horror film the slow burn is always the best way to go anyway, and there are moments of violence and gore peppered along the way to keep the viewer on their toes. There’s one scene in which a farmer gets crushed by a bull that was particularly brutal. In fact, there’s quite a bit of violence centered around animals in this film, so if you’re squeamish about that you may wish to avoid. It’s no Cannibal Holocaust or anything, but be forewarned.
Not to say that Wake Wood is a perfect film however. As stated, the story really is an almost beat-for-beat lift of Stephen King’s classic creep-out. (POSSIBLE SPOILER AHEAD) The problem is really with the third act; the filmmakers had an opportunity to take the story in a different direction, but instead they choose to let it play out pretty much the same way Pet Sematary does, with a few of the details being different. This results in a mixed bag of a climax, that while satisfying in terms of violence, doesn’t have the sort of emotional punch that the preceeding film promises. It feels a little cheap, and while Pet Sematary maintains its tone with spook house scares, the Killer Kid Klimax seems a bit of an ill fit for the more somber and serious-minded Wake Wood. What could have been a serious meditation on loss turns into basically a slasher morality tale, and though I found it to be satisfying on an entertainment level, I can see how going this route was perhaps a missed opportunity.
The film is a Scottish production under the banner of the newly revived Hammer imprint, and I have to say that so far the films that Hammer have put their name on (that I’ve seen) have been pretty decent. I don’t know if Hammer is simply acquiring these films or financing them, but whatever they’re doing they’re doing good. Whether you thought the American remake of Let The Right One In was necessary or not, Let Me In was still a quality production, and the quality carries over to Wake Wood. This makes me very excited to see next years The Woman In Black because judging from the trailer they seem to be really pouring on the Gothic atmosphere, so we may get a quality film that falls more in line with the classic Hammer aesthetic of old. Here’s hoping.
Is It Worth A Look: Yes. If you are down with creepy, slow-burn horror, this is well worth a watch. You will need to forgive its derivativeness however, and the third act is likely to be hit-or-miss for you. Still, it’s a classy little film and a fine addition to the Hammer canon.
Random Anecdotes: There is no commentary on the disc and no behind-the-scenes, so I got nothing. I dunno, maybe it was cold on set one day or something?
Cinematic Soulmates: Pet Sematary, Pet Sematary, Pet Sematary, Wicker Man.