Written by: David Keating and Brendan McCarthy
Directed by: David Keating
Starring: Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, and Timothy Spall
Reviewed by: Brett G.
The dead should never be woken.
The resurrection of Hammer Films continues with Wake Wood, which, appropriately enough, is about resurrection itself. It also returns the company to its European roots as an Irish production that drops viewers into familiar Hammer territory with small, cultish towns and creepy, otherworldly conspiracies. "Occult" and "Hammer" go together like "blood" and "guts," and this one delivers all of that--and more.
When Patrick (Aidan Gillen) and Louise (Eva Birthistle) lose their 9 year old daughter, Alice (Ella Connolly), they relocate to the small town of Wake Wood to put their lives back together. After living there for about nine months, they begin to discover something is amiss, as odd rituals take place by moonlight. It turns out one of the townís citizens (Timothy Spall) holds the power to revive the dead for only three days. He extends his offer to Patrick and Louise, who are holding a secret of their own that causes Aliceís resurrection to go horribly wrong.
As I watched Wake Wood, it didnít take long for me to decide that this is definitely the most Hammerish neo-Hammer movie so far. Pagan blood rituals combined with the small village trappings recall the demonic cult terrors of films like The Witches, The Devil Rides Out, and To the Devil a Daughter. All of that is ground up and put into a broth with The Wicker Man, Donít Look Now, Alice, Sweet Alice (Iím sure this filmís Aliceís name isnít a coincidence, nor is her yellow raincoat), and Pet Sematary. The resultant stew is a slick, familiar tale that manages to be a devilishly good time; a tidy yet pulpy little film, Wake Wood has strong performances, is well-shot (particularly the dreary, foreboding landscapes), and even a little disturbing.
It is perhaps much gorier than any film Hammer did 30 or 40 years ago. The ritual and resurrection sequences are delightfully gruesome and visceral, as is little Aliceís eventual rampage. Sheís got a decided mean streak about her that make her Bad Seed antics truly wicked. Whatís interesting, though, is that she isnít quite that wicked herself. Thereís something abominable about her very existence, of course, but the moment where she realizes she may be dead is a moment where the film is smart enough to acknowledge the heartbreaking nature of the events. I wish there were more moments like that.
I do think the film raises some interesting questions; would you take the chance to spend three more days with a deceased loved one? If youíve ever seen Pet Sematary, you know to say ďno.Ē Wake Wood doesnít exactly ponder on the moral or emotional components of this dilemma, nor does it weigh heavily on them; instead, itís more concerned to tell a nicely twisted tale about desperate people unconcerned with future moments. They choose to live in the now, consequences be damned. Watching it all spiral out of control is quite interesting, and the film descends into some dark depths by the end.
I wonder what this film would have looked like back in Hammerís glory days, awash in Technicolor and perhaps with Lee or Cushing tagging along. That I can easily imagine it speaks to how ďold schoolĒ it often feels, modern aesthetic aside. It comes without much pretense and is mostly content with pushing its horrors to the forefront with gore and jolts, though its scariest stuff are some unspoken ideas. If we can bring the dead back, where are they coming from? The eerie thing is that they seem to carry memories of whatever this nether-region is, and the film could have transcended into something truly special by exploring that psychological aspect more.
But as it stands, Wake Wood is a fun throwback to the days where the devil was in the details of paranoia and distrust. In this case, itís pretty obvious the town of Wake Wood canít quite be trusted, but itís the creepy situation and those who take advantage of it that ends up being most untrustworthy. It looks like Wake Wood was actually the first film Hammer put into production when they were revived; it was beaten to release by Let Me In and The Resident, but Dark Sky has brought it DVD and Blu-ray. Their standard-def release is fine--the anamorphic widescreen transfer is free of damage or artifacts, and the 5.1 surround track is astoundingly loud (the bass levels especially are overcooked to crazy levels). Deleted scenes and the filmís trailer represent the only special features. Still, the film itself marks Hammerís proper arrival into the 21st century, and who wants to miss that? Buy it!
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