In March, the newly risen corpse of legendary production company Hammer Horror delivered a relatively weak effort in the form of The Resident. Getting a theatrical release and extensive marketing (most likely due to its lead star, Oscar Winner Hilary Swank) whereas Wake Wood arrived quietly, with hardly any fanfare and directly onto DVD. Although it was screened in very select cinemas aswell, chances are, unless you live on Easter Island, it wasn’t one close to you. It’s unsurprising then, that Wake Wood is undoubtedly the better film.
After their young daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) is savagely attacked and killed by a dog, vet Patrick (Aiden Gillen of The Wire fame), and his wife Louise, (Eva Birthisle, not of The Wire fame) a pharmacist, relocate to the small Irish town of Wakewood. After a relatively good start in the town, their car breaks down and on whilst looking for help, they stumble upon a pagan ritual led by Arthur (Timothy Spall) that allows the dead to rise for 3 days only. When Arthur approaches them with the offer of bringing Alice back, they’re both horrified and excited. Eventually, they agree and proceedings get under way. But it’s not long until things start to go awry, with Alice not exactly be the perfect daughter that she was before the accident. With her power and control growing by the day, a bigger question arises: what will they do when it’s time for Alice to go back?
Graphically depicting the death of a young child is still a risky thing to do in modern cinema, especially when ripped to shreds by a crazed dog, but Keating manages to keep it as tasteful as humanly possible by bombarding the viewer with frantic close ups, making it almost impossible to focus on what is actually happening. The scene is presented as fragmented flashbacks, like a memory that refuses to leave, and is intercut with the couple driving to their new home. This is highly effective, as we see both the elation of parents spending time with the child and then the absolute devastation the loss causes them. The convincing performances from both Gillen and Birthisle make sure that the emotional aspect is not lost or undermined in any way. This isn’t a family drama though, and the blood flows freely whether it be from the human character deaths or animal related events. Newcomer Ellie Connolly gives a fantastic performance as Alice; she’s certainly one to watch out for in the future.
The core story isn’t anything new: a village where all is not as it seems/rituals to raise the dead etc. The way it’s told keeps things interesting though, and there are a lot of questions that are left unanswered, such as how did the ritual start? How did the reincarnated girl get so strong? And why is there no police force present?
The scares aren’t particularly ‘jumpy’: for the most part, tension and fear is created from what you don’t see. However, there are plenty of moments where the camera shows more than is probably necessary, most notably the birth of a calf which looks frighteningly realistic. This could possibly be my main gripe: there seems to be an undecided nature about the shocks, which creates an unbalanced experience. Are we supposed to be scared by what’s going on, or disturbed? They’re two very different things.
That aside, Wake Wood benefits from strong performances from all who matter and a script that, whilst not groundbreaking, keeps things interesting. However, the occasional lull in pace and indecisiveness of direction keep it from being a classic.