Wake Wood is the latest film to be credited with the Hammer name. Filmed in Pettigoe, the film has a distinctly homegrown feel, which is a pleasant change of pace from the more American The Resident. Given a shamelessly limited cinematic release, the film will be available on DVD from Monday, but the film works best on the big screen.
Patrick and Louise (Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle) are a married couple with a young daughter Alice, played very well by newcomer Ella Connolly. One day, their daughter is killed in a horrible accident. Still grieving some time later, they move into the rural village of Wake Wood. It’s not long before they stumble upon a pagan ritual that is practised by the townsfolk. As Patrick’s new boss Arthur (Timothy Spall) explains, in Wake Wood, they practise a rite, which can bring their daughter back to life over three days so that they can have a proper goodbye. However, there are some very strict rules, which must be obeyed. When Patrick and Louise deviate from them, bad things happen.
Wake Wood comes with a lot of allusions. First of all, the most obvious are two films from a 1973 double feature, The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now. The ritual itself recalls one of the best Hammer years of yesteryear, Dracula, Prince of Darkness. However, one thing that is most important about Wake Wood, as with The Resident (though obviously to a lesser extent)¸ is that the film curbs any tendencies to hark back to its roots, delivering instead something that is refreshingly original.
Ultimately, the film succeeds on the strength of its concept, one that is rich in possibilities and one that is genuinely nerve-racking, especially because you don’t know what is going to happen and what road the film will go down. As well as this, the performances are well played with Gillen and Birthistle’s grieving parents being both moving and convincing. You do believe that a couple like them would want to participate in such a rite. Equally good is Timothy Spall, playing the lead pagan and managing to be both sinister and likable.
However, these qualities become secondary to the film’s real bonus. Wake Wood manages to be a modern horror film that is actually scary. It is extremely tense and foreboding. When it gets into full swing, you will dread each new scene. Though it uses a lot of gore, it is the quiet scenes and the sequences involving ideas, which are the most effective. None the less, it is a fragile film that demands a big screen, a high volume and your complete and undivided attention. As well as this, it is a horror film for adults, the kind of thing that is rarely, if ever, made these days. Plus, it is shot in Pettigoe.
An unsure ending notwithstanding, Wake Wood is a gem of a film, a little low-budget horror film that is actually scary and is also emotionally involving. Littered with fine performances, a convincing locale and a great concept, Wake Wood is a film that deserves a wide release and a big following. Try your best to see it in the cinema.