mon 20/11/2017

Wake Wood | reviews, news & interviews

Wake Wood

Wake Wood

Hammer horror, itself back from the dead, is a spooky tale of corpse revival

Running and screaming and blood... and a yellow slicker

In Wake Wood, Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle play a married couple who lose their nine-year-old daughter in horrific circumstances. In mainstream cinema, this would lead to the earnest soul-searching and Oscar-bait performances of films like In the Bedroom, The Door in the Floor or Rabbit Hole. But Wake Wood is the latest film from the new-model Hammer Film Productions. Which of course means the soul-searching is followed by lots of running, and screaming, and blood.

In Wake Wood, Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle play a married couple who lose their nine-year-old daughter in horrific circumstances. In mainstream cinema, this would lead to the earnest soul-searching and Oscar-bait performances of films like In the Bedroom, The Door in the Floor or Rabbit Hole. But Wake Wood is the latest film from the new-model Hammer Film Productions. Which of course means the soul-searching is followed by lots of running, and screaming, and blood.

The loss of a child – and the consequences of misguided parental attempts to deal with that loss - is a recurrent theme in horror movies. The most agonising examples are Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 chiller Don’t Look Now, adapted from a story by Daphne du Maurier, and Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation of the Stephen King novel Pet Sematary, which was pretty much dismissed on initial release but has since garnered something of a following.

Wake Wood cleaves more to Pet Sematary than to Don’t Look Now, with an attempt at corpse revival in the best tradition of WW Jacobs’s seminal 1902 short story The Monkey’s Paw, in which the eponymous object "had a spell put on it by an old fakir" who "wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow".

Birthistle and Gillen install themselves in the small Irish village of Wake Wood (played by the border town of Pettigo, County Donegal) in an attempt to come to terms with their loss; he's a vet, she's a pharmacist. It also happens to be the only place in the British Isles with the means to raise the dead, which puts the kibosh on their grieving process and replaces it with deluded hope. Arcane pagan rituals are practised, but despite some superficial similarities, this is no Wicker Man community; the villagers, led by Timothy Spall (with underplayed Irish accent) as the local squire, appear to be well-meaning, and play by a stringent set of rules. The dead can be raised for three days only, giving their loved ones a chance to say the goodbyes they were denied in life.

_DSC2885__Timothy_SpallUnfortunately, Gillen and Birthistle are so desperate to have their daughter back they break the rules, with the sort of catastrophic consequences that anyone familiar with, say, the aforementioned Pet Sematary can predict. But let's just say that young Ella Connolly shows a nice line in Damien-esque menace, with the costume department ringing the changes on that Don't Look Now red raincoat by equipping her with a yellow slicker, which may itself remind diehard horror fans of Alfred Sole's 1976 shocker Communion, also known as (appropriately, given the name of Connolly's character) Alice, Sweet Alice.

After Let Me In (the America-set remake of the Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In) and The Resident (Hilary Swank stalked by her psycho landlord), Wake Wood is the latest evidence that new-model Hammer is harking back to a less atrocity-driven style of horror, built on an accumulation of creepy atmosphere rather than the systematic subjection of disposable teenagers to gruesome ordeals - though there's no shortage of splatter here.

avid Keating, who has been keeping a low profile since his promising Irish coming-of-age debut The Last of the High Kings some 14 years ago, co-wrote the screenplay with producer Brendan McCarthy (who also came up with the story) and directs with a merciful lack of such modern horror tropes as herky-jerky editing and overemphatic score - the soundtrack here leans towards a peculiar pagan-like percussion, echoing the equally peculiar village ritual of banging sticks together.

Eva_Ella__Aidan_As__LOUISE_ALICE__PATRICKIn fact, it's the oddness of the rituals that provides the film with its most original aspects, combining elements of blood, earth and fire with the caesarean process by which we've already seen Gillen delivering a calf. I particularly liked the organic-looking, almost Cronenberg-esque abacus by which Spall and the villagers ascertain whether or not certain dead people are eligible for revival, and the most effective moments, for me, are the initial hints that something has gone horribly wrong.

The weakest aspect of the film - unfortunately for a story in which a sense of place is paramount - is the topography. I had a hard time working out whose house was whose, and where the couple's home was supposed to be in relation to the rest of the village, the woods and the wind turbines which play important parts in the story. This could well be a result of the relatively low budget, but at times I felt a little lost in Wake Wood - and not in a good way. But there's enough here to make one look forward to Hammer's next production - an adaptation of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, already turned into a long-running West End play and adapted for television (to terrifying effect) by Nigel Kneale in 1989.

Watch the trailer for Wake Wood
Hammer is harking back to a less atrocity-driven style of horror built on creepy atmosphere rather than disposable teenagers subjected to gruesome ordeals

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Comments

Sounds pretty good. Hammer have got their work cut out with The Woman In Black, though.

It's derivative and very silly, but Hammer films always were very silly. More worrying, I thought, was the fact that bits of plot had been cut out. Aiden Gillen's character in particular seems to accept the proposal like that *clicks fingers*. I thought the yellow raincoat was more likely an homage to an episode of the Hammer House of Horror that I shan't name for fear of spoiling.

I enjoyed it overall, and Timothy Spall was delicously creepy, but there were a couple of plot holes that spoiled it for me- firstly that the couple accepted the idea that Alice could be brough back from the dead as though it were perfectly normal, and second, that after all the chaos he'd caused bringing Alice back, that Aidan Gillen's character was allowed a second bite of the cherry. Still, not bad. The re-birthing ritual was suitably gruesome. I look forward to The Woman in Black.

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