Review: Wake Wood
Hammer Horror makes a welcome return with David Keating’s Wake Wood. But does it live up to the great traditions of one of British cinema’s finest production studios?
Directed by: David Keating
Written by: David Keating, Brendan McCarthy
Starring: Timothy Spall, Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Dan Gordon
Released: 2011 / Genre: Horror / Country: UK / IMDB
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Wake Wood is the first Hammer Horror film to be released in thirty years. The film was supported by the Irish Film Board and part-financed by Swedish company Solid Entertainment. The story follows couple Patrick (Aiden Gillen) and Louise (Eva Birthistle) in the aftermath of the tragic death of daughter Alice at the hands of a rabid dog. A relocation to the remote village of Wake Wood fails to shield them from the memory of their nine-year-old daughter. However, when they learn of the local townsfolk bringing people back from the dead for three days they are excited about the chance to say a proper goodbye. But, for the ritual to work the person dead has to have been in the ground less than twelve months. Unfortunately for Patrick and Louise, Alice has been dead for over a year. Despite a warning of repercussions, the couple decide to lie about the timing of Alice’s demise and she is brought back to life with devastating consequences.
David Keating’s film celebrates the great traditions of Hammer Horror. In keeping with the production values of the studio it was shot quickly and economically on a budget of around £1.6 million. Thematically it has a gothic horror undercurrent that wallows in pagan ritual and the enclosed, inbred secrecy of remote English villages. It immediately sets up a promise of the macabre then slow-burns its mystery behind the hushed tones of the townsfolk.
The film’s locale and the guarded interests of the local people reminded me of The Wicker Man, while Patrick and Louise’s plight is definitely straight out of Don’t Look Now. Evidently, the potential for a great story is there but the film never really delivers. There’s plenty of intrigue leading up to Alice’s reincarnation before the film slides into slasher horror territory when it should be focusing on the dilemma faced by Patrick and Louise as their three days conclude. What interested me most was the idea that it would become harder for the grieving family to bring someone back from the dead since they could only survive for three days. This concept was unfortunately largely lost behind Alice’s new found taste for blood.
Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle are amiable leads but Timothy Spall’s turn as leader of the pagan clan stands out. He’s excellent in the role. His tweed hat and walking stick suggests he’s an experienced English gentleman of the highest order, but his gait and manner cries out that something unsettling bumbles beneath the artificial smile. Spall is the shining light in this darkly macabre Hammer Horror tale that reminds us of the best traditions of the studio if not fully achieving them itself.
This review is part of 31 Days of Horror: