Features Live Action Movies

Wake Wood

Director – David Keating – 2009 – UK, Ireland – Cert. 18 – 90m


Things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad and terrible prices have to be paid in a mysterious, close-knit village community – out in UK cinemas from Friday, March 25th, 2011

This review originally appeared in Third Way.

This presages the recent relaunching of Hammer Films, a huge cultural force back in the 1950s and 60s reworking such horror staples as Dracula and Frankenstein. So far UK cinemas have hosted (1) Let Me In‘s arguably pointless US remake of terrific Swedish vampire effort Let The Right One In and (2) predictable, New York tenant in peril outing The Resident. Wake Wood is not only far and away the best of the three, but also fits in with the Hammer ethos – here represented by a mysterious, close-knit village community where things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad, and terrible prices have to be paid for misjudged actions. A fair bit of blood and gore is added for good measure.

After their only daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) is fatally savaged by a dog, Irish city dwellers vets Patrick and Louise Daly (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Eva Birthistle) move to the isolated village of Wake Wood to start over. As they get to know the locals, including the fatherly Arthur (Tim Spall), another vet and the top man in the community, they stumble upon strange, nighttime occult rituals: the land has the power to resurrect the dead for three days of life, giving the bereaved a chance to properly say goodbye to loved ones taken unexpectedly from them. Superficially, three days’ resurrection might evoke Biblical comparisons were it not for Old Testament prohibitions against communing with the dead.

As often in Hammer, there are conditions attached: needless to say, the couple break the rules and terrible consequences ensue. A three page printed blurb in the press handouts states a recurrent Hammer theme that, “the Chthonic powers of Paganism will always trump the spiritual powers of Christianity”, a point of view with which we at Third Way will agree to differ.

That said, there is much to admire in Wake Wood – the grieving couple are convincing and well-fleshed out, while Tim Spall captures exactly the right mix of superficial friendliness masking strange motivations beneath as he struggles morally to do the right thing. The rebirth rituals involving people being pulled from mammals provide satisfyingly bloody spectacle as do other elements towards the finale. The plotting is clever, the performances strong and the whole derives a convincing feel from being grounded in Irish earth religion. All of which makes for a terrific and terrifying supernatural thriller.

There are echoes of cult classic The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973), although no specific mention is made of God or Devil in Wake Wood while the Church – or any sort of Christian presence – is totally absent. Nevertheless, the narrative’s grounding in parental grief at the untimely loss of a child proves highly effective. Outside any Christian concept of a God on whom to fall back in times of trouble, in such circumstances you presumably fall back on whatever else is available.

Wake Wood is out in UK cinemas from Friday, March 25th, 2011.


This review originally appeared in Third Way.

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