Release Date: 28th March 2011
Director: David Keating
Starring: Eva Birthistle, Ella Connolly, Aidan Gillen, Brian Gleeson, Timothy Spall
Reviewer: Adam Wing
After the critical and commercial success of horror remake Let Me In (2010), Hammer Films would appear to be making a welcome comeback, especially if you take into account the quality of David Keating’s latest oddity - call it a resurrection if you will.
Still grieving the death of their only child, Alice (Ella Connolly), a young couple relocate to the remote town of Wake Wood where they stumble upon a group of villagers practising Pagan rituals. They soon discover that this ritual has the power to bring back the dead, and could allow them three days to say goodbye to their beloved daughter.
When terms are agreed with the ominous leader Arthur (Timothy Spall), far greater questions become apparent... what will they do when it's time for Alice to go back? Will she go back peacefully? Or are there more sinister forces at work? This being a Hammer Films production, it stands to reason that we’re not going to end on a shot of hugs and puppies.
The lives of Louise (Eva Birthistle) and Patrick (Aidan Gillen) are destroyed when their daughter is mauled to death by a ferocious dog, they move to the town of Wake Wood and attempt to pick up the pieces of their shattered existence. Louise gets a job behind a counter, and Patrick is employed by Arthur to help with the animals.
One dark night (isn’t it always), Louise stumbles upon a Pagan ritual being performed by the sinister village leader, but it’s not until they decide to leave that the cold, dead truth comes to life. Patrick refuses to believe in it at first, but Louise is less reluctant, having already witnessed a rebirth, not to mention some very peculiar behaviour at the pharmacy where she works. As is always the case with Pagan rituals, there are rules that need to be followed, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that something goes terribly wrong.
Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (1989) gets a British makeover then, and David Keating’s horror outing is spurred on by two extraordinary lead performances. Timothy Spall is often restricted to comedic roles in lightweight Hollywood family fare, so it’s easy to forget what a fine actor he is. He certainly has the look of an evildoer, so its no small wonder that he steals every scene with his creepy portrayal of village leader Arthur.
His performance is almost bested however by that of newcomer Ella Connolly, the daughter reborn who ‘isn’t quite right’. All sweetness and light in the films opening - witness the scene where she enters the new family home for the first time. Upon being told they were there ‘for a break’, Alice innocently concludes, “I must’ve slept the whole way”. It soon becomes clear that all is not well, and Connolly successfully balances the innocence of youth with the sinister undertones of twisted child trauma. Creepy kids are a given in this kind of movie, and Ella’s Alice always convinces, helped by a script that is blessed with foreboding lines like “I’ll see you later” and intimidating innocence when asking “Mum… can I have a hug?”
The rest of the cast perform admirably and the intriguing plot makes for compulsive viewing. Wake Wood's biggest failing is that it doesn’t add anything new to an already exhausted genre, that said however, it doesn’t exactly walk in the shadows of its siblings either. Two spectacular lead turns help, as does a solid script that manipulates at just the right moments.
The cinematography is reliably atmospheric and Wake Wood delivers on its promise of genuinely disgusting rebirths and a fine line in bloody retribution. What the film lacks in originality it makes up for in menace, and dare I say it, moving sentiment. It’s unusual for a horror movie to be so affecting, in this regard Hammer’s latest shares a lot in common with last years Let Me In - Ella’s Alice ensures that Wake Wood touches deeper than your typical fright fest.
Wake Wood fails to break new ground, but David Keating’s horror debut is a memorable movie in its own right, and a killer ending seals the coffin on a delectably deadly night in.