Starring Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly
Directed by David Keating
Distributed by Momentum Pictures
Heading back into the Gothic horror territory in which they originally made their name, the revitalised Hammer brand takes audiences on a trip to the titular rural village of Wake Wood for their newest slice of terror.
When veterinarian/pharmacist couple Patrick (Gillen) and Louise (Birthistle) Daly lose their only daughter, Alice (Connolly), to the slavering jaws of a savage dog that was caged awaiting treatment, they decide to move to the remote Irish village of Wake Wood in order to make a new start. Taking over the local veterinarian clinic, the pair slowly settle in and begin to deal with their grief before the village’s patriarch of sorts, Arthur (Spall), reveals to them a local secret: a pagan ritual through which they can be given three days with their departed daughter – a chance to come to terms with their loss and impart the love and goodbyes that they were denied the opportunity to give.
There’s a catch, though, along with rules that must be adhered to, and when what feels to them like a little white lie is passed, they soon discover the deadly consequences of failing to respect these conditions.
Coming across like a mix of The Wicker Man and Pet Sematary, Keating’s Wake Wood feels very familiar from the beginning and unfortunately never really makes any attempt to break the mould. Starting off as a somewhat otherworldly exploration of city folk faced with strange traditions in the face of grief, it eventually evolves into little more than just another killer child flick as the reanimated Alice slips further into murderous evil as the three-day ceiling on her new existence approaches.
The village itself is well realised, appearing pleasant, welcoming, and very believable alongside the residents therein – who are all too willing to allow the use of their own recently deceased in a blood ritual so that others may too have the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. Director Keating deftly handles the storytelling side of the affair with consistent pacing, well drawn characters and nicely felt emotional poignancy. The cast by and large do the story justice, even if many could be accused of underplaying somewhat – feeling distinctly like they’re slumming it even though they’re still delivering good performances, which in a way is testament to the thespian skills of the likes of the great Timothy Spall. Visually, there’s nothing too inventive in the way of camerawork or staging. Instead, most emphasis is placed on simply telling a solemn story and focusing on the sense of place through which Wake Wood most succeeds.
While the initial acts of Wake Wood may be quite riveting stuff (the ritual itself is a wonderfully realised, and inventive, set piece), the final act is where it begins to come undone. As Alice starts laying waste to the village’s residents, further mythological elements are introduced – such as Arthur’s exclamation that the reanimated cannot harm you if you don’t look at them – but quickly swept under the rug, unheeded by the characters; and the kill scenes are disappointingly flat and choppily edited, feeling like too many Second Unit inserts were required. As Alice, Connolly performs admirably and ingratiates herself in the role very well during the early stages; however, her transformation to dead-eyed mutilator carries little threat outside of the script itself and leaves her all too brief reign of terror profoundly disappointing and markedly bereft of surprises.
Still, with its main shortcoming simply being its inability to offer anything new once the actual horror kicks in, Wake Wood is worth a watch for a few nifty ideas, some good characterisation and an effectively moody build-up. As a complete package it’s middle-of-the-road stuff, but the deliciously devilish final moments demand an easy extra half knife.
Special features on Momentum’s disc include a selection of short deleted scenes/sequences, wisely excised as they don’t particularly offer anything more to the story, and a selection of interviews with the cast and crew in what is essentially a 20-minute EPK complete with all of the generic info and backslapping that typically populates those. Finally, the teaser and theatrical trailer take us home.
3 out of 5
2 out of 5