Wake Wood (18)
Running Time: 87 Mins
Reviewed by Matt Wavish: official HCF critic
Hammer productions have been a bit up and down since their comeback a few years ago. It started off badly with Beyond the Rave, then really made it’s mark with the superb Let Me In, then it fell flat again with the piss poor The Resident. So where does Wake Wood lead it then? I will say this: it is in the right direction that’s for sure. See, Beyond the Rave and The Resident missed everything about Hammer, they did not have that Hammer touch, that mystery, authenticity and sense of both dread and wonder. Let Me In did, a cracking remake of Let the Right One In, a vampire film considered one of the best ever made was re-made almost as good as the original was. Now Hammer return with Wake Wood and as I said, it’s a step back in the right direction, it is not quite there, but this is certainly one of the better horror films I have seen in a while.
Louise (Eva Birthistle) and Patrick (Aidan Gillen) are loving parents to their daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) and both have good jobs. Patrick is a vet, while Louise works in the pharmaceutical business. After some truly unsettling opening credits of haunting music and ghostly backgrounds that set the tone incredibly well, we get thrown into the events that cause Patrick and Louise to leave their happy life and move to the country, to a place called Wake Wood. On her way home from school, Alice decides to visit her Father at work and gives a small treat to an Alsation dog that Patrick is caring for. The dog attacks Alice and in a savage scene that you were in no way expecting, the dog rips Alice’s throat open and mauls her to death. It is unsettling and highly disturbing, and even though you were expecting Alice to die in some way (if you’ve read up on the film) there is no way you’d ever expect it to be quite so brutal. Cleverly, the film now jumps scenes between the attack, Patrick and Louise running to the hospital with their little girl, and then of them driving to Wake Wood to try and start over. The graininess of the filming along with the continuously great and haunting score open up a film of incredible presence and promise. After such a brilliant and gobsmacking opening you have to wonder weather director David Keating has the skills to pull this off and keep it going. The simple answer to that is yes he does…
Wake Wood is like any other country village, surrounded by fields and woods and beautiful countryside, the locals all know each other, the farmers are well respected, oh, and as you would find in any country village, the locals like to walk around banging on wooden instruments and resurrecting the dead! Patrick and Louise fit in perfectly, with their career skills they are just what the village needs. There are some excellent veterinary scenes going on here, like the birth of a calf, which are incredibly filmed and actually quite fascinating. The whole country atmosphere is given a massive boost in this gorgeously realised setting, you can almost smell the manure in the air, or the stench of recently put out fires, or cut grass, or burning oils and woods and all things country-like. I like the country see, and when a film can pull off the look and feel of it without it looking tacky, then to me it can almost make or break a film. See, normally country based films seem to use a lot of natural light for the daytime shots, and in the wrong hands it looks a bit, well, crap really. Here it is done perfectly, absolutely perfectly! Sorry, where was I? Oh, yes, the animal scenes, this brings me to a stunning scene and the second death of the movie, Death By Cow!!!
Yes, the death by cow scene is executed extremly well as a poor old chap finds himself wedged between a gate and a backing up cow as the farmers attempt to get th cow in the enclosure. It may sound funny, but the scene is anything but, this is a serious death which hurts to watch. That’s another thing this film does excellently, sound effects. No snapping of bone or ripping of flesh goes unheard, and yet it doesn’t seem overly amplified for added effect, it sounds right bizarely enough and it really adds to the horror of many scenes. The dead man’s now trampled body does come in useful later on, but we shall get to that. Enter Arthur, played with far too natural creepiness by Timothy Spall. He has learnt of Patrick and Louise’s heartbreak at losing their daughter and offers to help. Pagan rituals, by him, can bring back the dead for 3 days, and the recently deceased old man’s body is the perfect way of doing this. Reluctantly, but desperatly, Patrick and louise decide to go for it and agree to the ritual to go ahead, even though “there will be consequences”. The mood of the film rarely lifts above intense moodiness, there is zero humour to lighten the proceedings and the full on intensity almost boils over to breaking point as the ritual is set up. Filmed at night (when else!) the locals gather and await Arthurs commands. I will not go into detail about how this all works and what they actually do because, believe me, this is a scene you will want to experience for yourself. It is quite brilliant and is the standout scene of the film, and could well be my scene of the month (if I ever decided to do a scene of the month!). Just sit back and behold a director who has got his audience right where he wants them, in the palm of his hand hanging on every word and every action.
I daren’t say much more about the plot now as you can probably guess how things turn out. Hammer have done well here though and picked a worthy story to add to their collection and the relatively new director has really made his mark on the horror genre. David Keating is a name I will be closely watching after this. Another brownie point for him is his use of pretty much unknown actors, and oddly enough, each one of them give fantastic and utterly believable performances. The locals give off a sense of bitter mystery and haunting stares, while the couple create characters who are suffering terribly and you can feel their pain in everything they say or do. Timothy Spall, probably the most recognisable face, hams up his performance with utter brilliance. Locals turn ugly, and things happen which don’t always make sense, and the film cleverly keeps a strong air of mystery. You think you know where the film is going to lead, and yet in the back of your mind you have doubts, its epxertly played out. However, I said the film was a step in the right direction for Hammer, meaning the film is not perfect. Yes, things turn rather gory as we head to the finale, but with such a superb build up of mystery, atmosphere and natural setting, the film can’t quite keep to those levels of brilliance come the final twenty minutes or so.
There are hints the director still has a few tricks up his sleave, like a superbly edited sex scene between Patrick and Louise which jumps around from beginning to end to really show a couple madly in love and finally happy again. But, even with moments of greatness and originality still popping up, it seems the film runs out of ideas come the end and falls a bit falt. Actually, lets re-phrase that, maybe the film didn’t run out of ideas, but instead didn’t know how to wrap things up. Now, this is not to say the films finale is bad, far from it, I reckon many fans with love the way it leads, it’s just I always get frustrated at films that show SO much promise, but are happy to go down the more commercial route to finish to try and please the masses. Yes, its a good way to lead to the end, but wanted more of the eerie chills from the first half. Ah, maybe it’s just me and my old age being to damned fussy! Wake Wood is a highly recommended horror which pretty much ticks all the boxes for a great night in of terror, and it leaves a bitter bitter taste. Highly recommended, enjoy it and, with any luck, the damned thing will give you a few sleepless nights!