The resurrection of Britain’s beloved Hammer Film Studios in a market saturated with unimaginative horror fare running the entire gamut of ghoulish delights is highly unlikely to result in the company’s marketplace prominence during its heyday during the 50s and early 60s. Nevertheless, with WAKE WOOD, director and co-writer David Keating restores some of the former glory to Hammer with an interesting spin on the classic W. W. Jacobs’ tale “The Monkey’s Paw”.
In a style reminiscent of some of the finer episodes from the TV series ‘Hammer’s House of Horror’ that centred on modern rural communities faced with ancient curses and pagan practices, Keating delivers a respectable shocker with several artistic flourishes that hit and miss in equal measure.
Young Alice (Ella Connelly) dies following a savage attack by a dog. Her parents, Patrick (Aidan Gillen) and Louise (Eva Birthistle), in an attempt to rebuild their shattered lives, move to the rural village of Wakewood where Patrick finds work as a veterinary surgeon and Louise as a chemist. One day Louise is perturbed by a visit to her pharmacy by a woman and her strange niece, who appears to be suffering from an identified illness. Upon checking her medical card, Louise notices that the record is almost a year out of date. When she later bumps into the mysterious girl during a village parade the girl remarks that “Alice has a lovely voice”.
One evening, Louise witnesses an eerie pagan village ritual overseen by town patriarch Arthur (Timothy Spall) in which a young man appears to be birthed from what appears to be a desecrated corpse that is caked in muddied earth, set alight, and doused with water. She is seen by Arthur who visits Patrick and Louise’s home later in the evening and informed that the couple will be giving up their jobs. Keen to keep the talented vet and his wife at Wakewood, where their services have proved beneficial to the community, Arthur informs them that if the couple promise to stay in the village, he can bring back their daughter from the dead for three days, provided she has died within the past year and she doesn’t leave the boundary of the village, marked by a circle of wind turbines. This act will allow the couple to bid farewell to their child something that members of the Wakewood community have found helped them come to terms with their grief. However, if the couple refuse to hand back Alice to the earth or attempt to leave the town “there will be consequences”. Needless to say, Alice is resurrected, and things soon start to go awry.
Director Keating’s script is full of atmospheric touches that mirror the duality of life and birth with scenes in which cars break down and rare epaired, animals both kill and give birth, and bodies buried and exhumed. The rituals and death sequences are fairly gory in their depiction, though Keating’s build-up to the violence lacks any edge due to a distinct lack of tension, and so makes them rather pedestrian affairs that fail to deliver the shocks that they ought, even allowing for the fact that the special effects are rather simplified: a farmer violently crushed by his prize bull is simply a set of blue overalls with holes filled with offal. Fans of the classic Hammer movies may like to spot visual references to several Dracula movies, but a nod to Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW with an uninvolving sequence in which Patrick and Louise make love that, like Roeg’s masterpiece, is intended to show that the protagonists are coming to terms with their daughter’s death looks clumsy and tacked on for its exploitative value.
At times the script fails to convince. Patrick is all to eager to accept the fact that his daughter can be brought back from the dead, and is all too willing to dig up her grave and desecrate her corpse in order to comply with Arthur’s ritual requests. But despite several similar plot-holes, the cast all play it straight and Timothy Spall, as expected, commands audience attention in every scene he appears.
The film’s twist is also a bit too obvious though I did enjoy the final reel that was all the more unnerving for its implied horror. Overall, one of the better rural horrors of recent years, the film ought to do well on DVD and I’d recommend it over the current slew of splatter fare.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by David Keating
English language with opeitonal English subtitles for the hard of hearing
90 minutes approx / Colour / Rated 18
Studio: Momentum Pictures Home Ent
Release date: 28th March 2011
•Interview with cast and crew •Deleted scenes •Trailer •Teaser trailer