director David Keating
British film studio Hammer has long been legend in the industry for its contributions, largely via stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, in the realms of Dracula, Frankenstein, and a lot of Victorian era costume horror films from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. But then it sort of dried up.
In the last five years, though, the studio has gone through a rebirth of sorts and has gone back to the core of their past successes in re-embracing the horror genre, with some nods to their own traditions but definitely as well for the modern audiences. David Keating’s Wake Wood is one of the first slew of Hammer productions in this new era and it seems semi-emblematic.
Set in the small Irish village of Wakewood, a young couple whose daughter was killed in a vicious dog mauling, finds that the locals with their secretive traditional Pagan ways can bring back a dead person for three days of time for a chance to say goodbye. That is, only if the person has been dead for less than a year. And the whole process involves a lot of bloodletting and sacrificial hoodoo, as well as a committment to never leave the vicinity. It’s been noted aptly that the film channels aspects of both Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) and Robin Hardy’s classic The Wicker Man (1973) (interestingly neither actually Hammer horror films themselves).
For my money, Wake Wood is a mixed bag of qualities. I don’t think that the film is all that effectively made, though I’d be pressed to put my finger on exactly what was missing. It’s a sort of timing or pacing thing, I think. I don’t know. Parts of the film are vividly effective while as a whole it feels a bit of a munge.
Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle are good as the bereaved mother and father led down the dark alley by Timothy Spall, the town’s black magic patriarch. But their otherworldly daughter, Alice, played by Ella Connolly is the real stand out. Because when you bring young mauled child back to life, especially when it’s been a few days longer than the year suggested by those who practice the dark arts, you know she’s going to come back a bit more evil and messed up than you would like.
The film has some bloody gore, with some animal mutilation/vetrinary treatment that winds up being very effective. It may have even been the efficacy of this gore that brought home the visceral nature of these Pagan rituals, this super-natural rite, that made this film as good as it is.
Which is good. Not fantastic. But good.