I’m going to start this review by mentioning a rather crucial point. I’m not really a big fan of horror films. I scare easily, I’ve an aversion to blood, and anything involving small children (even if it’s not intended to be scary) will terrify me senseless. So why did I like Wake Wood so much?
Aiden Gillen (recognisable as Tommy Carcetti from The Wire) drops the Baltimore accent and plays Patrick, an Irish city vet who, when his daughter Alice is tragically killed by an angry dog, moves with his wife Louise (Eva Birtwhistle) to the country village of Wake Wood. Coincidentally for the couple, (and also for the name of the village) it turns out that the wood in Wake Wood has the power to wake the recently deceased – but only for three days.
Timothy Spall plays the deliciously avuncular village elder Arthur, who fairly early on is revealed to be somewhat sinister. With his help, daughter Alice is brought back to life for three days, but soon the villagers realise something is amiss, and demand she be put back in the earth. As it turns out, Alice doesn’t really fancy that.
Although the performances from Gillan, Birtwhistle and Spall are all strong, for me the star turn comes from Ella Connolly as Alice. I mentioned before that small children scare me (you can’t tell what they’re thinking) and this young lady is particularly terrifying. Connolly performs with such creepy panache that when a crash-zoom showed her staring dead-eyed through a background window, I yelped a little.
Despite jumpy moments, Wake Wood is largely a fairly slow, creepy chiller; flashes of fear are followed by long scenes of character development. However, all in all these fail to detract from the film’s power. Wake Wood is a lot more than your average scare-fest; it’s about loss, about grief, and about exploring the lengths you’d go to for three more days with a person taken from you. If you’re looking to be moved, chilled, and have a yearning to learn about safe farmyard practices and veterinary skills, then perhaps you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
So why doesn’t it deserve a fifth, glowing, illustrious star? An excellent question.
My only grumble with Wake Wood is that since it’s so comparable to The Wicker Man (it really is) I was holding out for a bit of silliness. Wake Wood is a Hammer film, the brand behind such classics as Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter and Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell, and although the plot of Wake Wood fits the usual Hammer formula, it’s lacking in some of the past playfulness. More could perhaps have been made of Timothy Spall’s character, and whereas The Wicker Man has Christopher Lee’s charm and Brit Ekland writhing naked against a bedroom wall, the smile inducing moments in Wake Wood were rather thin on the dead-revitalizing ground.
Still, all in all this is a thinking man’s chiller, with strong performances, a unique premise and confident pacing. Hopefully future releases will have some of the charm which made Hammer films so distinctive and ultimately earn that extra star, but this latest offering is well on its way.