Monday 28 March 2011


The latest film to be released by the rejuvenated Hammer Studios, Wake Wood is now out on DVD. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

Following a devastating family trauma, Louise and Patrick (Eva Birthistle and Aidan Gillen) move to the quaint village of Wakewood, hoping to slowly rebuild their lives. After settling into the community they start to notice strange goings-on from the local inhabitants, including some peculiar rituals led by the towns Mayor, Arthur (Timothy Spall). When Louise and Patrick learn that through the secret ritual they could be reunited with their deceased daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) for a period of three days, they take Arthur up on his offer without thinking through the consequences first. What if Alice doesn't want to go back?

Like a cross between The Wicker Man and Stephen King's Pet Sematary, Wake Wood is not what you'd call a modern horror; in fact with the Hammer Studios tag, it could have been made any time in the last fifty years. There's a timeless appeal to the story that you don't often see nowadays. Stripped of any technological or social terrors, Wake Wood is a simple, paganistic tale of loss and the grieving process.

The cast is fairly solid (in particular Timothy Spall as a cross between Christopher Lee and Christopher Timothy), and Ella Connolly's Alice has a sweetness that is disconcerting in a Village of the Damned kind of way. The townsfolk may be common-or-garden loonies shipped straight over from Summerisle, but the focus on Aidan Gillen's local vet and Eva Birthistle's pharmacist restricts them to background characters anyway.

It's another installment into the horror standard that all children are evil, but Alice isn't as effective a threat as Damien in The Omen, Esther in Orphan or even last year's Dorothy (a similar Irish production about a disturbed young girl and small town conspiracy). With her bright yellow rain mac and cherubic face, she is a clear nod towards the classic Don't Look Now; but if you let that tale of every parent's worst nightmare enter your mind, Wake Wood may leave you feeling slightly underwhelmed in comparison.

Wake Wood has the kind of simple but effective premise the re-birthed Hammer should be working on. There's something defiantly British about its style that's quite endearing, although I'm not so sure how well this kind of story would transfer internationally. Wake Wood does deliver some shocks and gore (the birthing ritual is pretty vile), but is less of a horror than it is a supernatural chiller. It's a solid direct-to-DVD film with an effectively creepy conflict at its core, but if Hammer hope to take on the Hollywood juggernauts theatrically they'll have to deliver a few more crowd-pleasing scares.


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