In this supernatural horror we follow Patrick (Aiden Gillen) and Louise (Eva Birthistle), a couple who are mourning the recent loss of their young daughter who was killed in a vicious dog attack. They move to the village of Wake Wood where Patrick works as the local vet and Louise is the village pharmacist. There is clearly something a little peculiar about the villagers and the couple soon observe a strange ritual. It transpires that within the bounds of Wake Wood, it is possible to bring a dead person back – but only for three days and only on the condition that the individual has not been dead for more than one year.
In their grief and desperation to see their daughter again, the couple decided to submit to the ritual, lying to the villagers about the length of time that their daughter has been dead.
This film has been compared to both Don’t Look Now and The Wicker Man. It seems evident that this film borrows heavily from both of these films. The insular, paganistic nature of the villagers recalls the Wicker Man, as does the visceral brutality of their ritual. The similarities are superficial, however – the villagers (led by an underused Timothy Spall) are not malevolent in their intentions – quite to the contrary they are concerned for the safety and wellbeing of the couple. Comparisons with Don’t Look Now are likewise superficial – the child in the yellow coat is clearly a direct homage to the red coated infant in the aforementioned film. The urgent love-making of couple wracked with guilt and loss urgently seeking solace and consolation is another blatant reference.
While I enjoyed Wake Wood, the homages to Classic films only served to underline how far short this film falls from being their equal. The first half of the film has promise, it has moments of genuine poignancy and gently builds a sense of underlying dread. But the second half throws away this early promise, relying more heavily upon gore and murder.
This film has a lot of unfulfilled promise. It needed to be longer: drawing out the heartache of the parents who will soon be separated from their child again; building up the mystery of Wake Wood and its villagers; hinting at the nature of the powers which have allowed this ritual to be possible. I was left with the sense at the end of the film that rather than leaving too many questions unanswered, not enough questions had been posed. The couple accept too readily that this ritual will work – they do not question how, why or even if they should engage in it. There were so many opportunities for real menace and alarm to be created but these were wasted.
Ultimately Wake Wood is an entertaining, unsettling piece of cinema which settles for being a classy by-the-numbers horror. It falls far short of the two classics it emulates, which is a shame as it has so much potential. As a low-budget movie it could have gone off in an art-house, cult direction and really produced an edgy and challenging piece of cinema – all the elements were there. Instead we have a solid, though ultimately rather forgettable film. This film marks a quiet return for Hammer – I was eager to watch it after having recently seen Woman in Black, I felt this would give me a better idea of the direction Hammer is taking. The two films are miles apart in terms of budget and production values, though they have some similarities. Both films have the opportunity to be much more than they ultimately are – Hammer is being surprisingly timid but it’s early days and we have been supplied with an intriguing introduction.