Directed by David Keating
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
In Wake Wood, we meet a young family of three who seem to be perfectly happy until unforeseen tragedy strikes. Patrick (Gillen) and Louise (Birthistle) are parents to an animal-loving Alice (Connolly), whose curiosity tragically gets the best of her as she’s mauled to death by a vicious dog. The parents are left grieving and heartbroken by Alice’s death so they pack up and move to the small town of Wakewood, where they attempt to start fresh and hope to put the tragedy behind them.
After they settle into Wakewood, both Patrick and Louise soon realize there’s something strange going on, and one night after their car breaks down near the woods, the pair stumble upon a pagan ritual happening on a neighbor’s property, and they soon realize that it’s not impossible to be given more time with their daughter if they are willing to play by the rules of the town. They’re told by Arthur (Spall) that they can have Alice back for three days only and must stay within the town’s limits. And true to the horror genre formula, if they break the traditions of the ritual, there will be consequences to pay. Not seeing the “bigger picture” of what could happen when playing with fire, Patrick and Louise quickly agree to do the ritual even though they know they’re deceiving their community about some of the facts concerning their daughter’s demise. After Patrick and Louise’s daughter returns from the grave, they begin sensing there’s something “off” about Alice and struggle with coming to terms that what they’ve brought back is evil incarnate.
Wake Wood is the latest horror production from the United Kingdom based Hammer Films and is a fine addition to the prestigious Hammer catalog of films (its US distribution is being handled by the good folks at Dark Sky Films). It is directed and co-written by David Keating, who demonstrates great subtle storytelling techniques that make Wake Wood a creepy yet emotional journey for viewers. An exploration of themes including grief, the power of bringing life into the world and some Pagan folklore peppered in there to elevate the story, Wake Wood proves to viewers the validity in some universal truths – that lying always has consequences and that sometimes the dead are best left buried.
Another enjoyable thing about Wake Wood is that we saw that kids can still be creepy on film without having to resort to relying on campiness to sell it either. Alice is like Damien (The Omen) but a more sympathetic version – she has little understanding of what’s going on and she’s unable to control the evil forces that have returned with her and ultimately just wants to be a happy little girl living with her parents.
Keating and his cast do a remarkable job of bringing a compelling but quietly scary story to life. While the movie doesn’t rely on needless gore to tell its story, there are definitely a few moments that left me a little squeamish with more realistic violence than gratuitous gore shots (although there is a sweet shot of someone getting a weapon shoved through their throat, so there is something for everyone). What made the concept of Wake Wood get under my skin is that it’s easily relatable material because if we were all given the opportunity to bring someone back to have three more days with them, we would probably do just what Patrick and Louise resort to in Wake Wood.
The only downside to Wake Wood is that the DVD and the Blu-ray (which looks and sounds razor sharp and amazing in comparison to its standard definition cousin) are light on the extras. On the home release version we only get some deleted scenes and the trailer. With having such a rich story in the film, I would have loved to have the opportunity to experience a look at some behind-the-scenes moments of Wake Wood or more about the origins of the story from Keating and his co-writer Brendan McCarthy.
Overall, Wake Wood is an effectively creepy exploration of some of life’s biggest moments (birth and death) and is definitely worth checking out when it makes its DVD debut in July. With hints of The Omen, Orphan, Pumpkinhead and oddly enough Hot Fuzz, Wake Wood is a prime example of why you don’t always need a high-concept horror movie with huge gore effects to be an effective film-watching experience.
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