Wake Wood Review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Hammer Films' first feature in 30 years isn't exactly a return to form...
Infamous for reeling off B movie horror flicks, legendary production company Hammer Films returned in 2008 with a new look. Since its revamp and the release of Let Me In, the stylish remake of a Swedish vampire love story, it looks like Hammer's priorities have moved away from quantity and towards quality. 2011 is going to be a busy year for Hammer with three big name productions all set for release, including films starring Daniel Radcliffe and Hilary Swank. Unlike in days of yore, Wake Wood may just stand out as one of the company's lower budget productions.
Wracked with grief after their young daughter, Alice (Ella Connolly), dies on her birthday, Louise (Eva Birthistle) and Patrick (Aidan Gillen), move to the small rural Irish border village of Wake Wood. As the village vet, Patrick fairly successfully integrates but, unable to conceive again, Louise remains scarred by the loss of her child. When their car breaks down and they seek help from Patrick's mysterious boss, Arthur (Timothy Spall), Louise spies something she shouldn't.
After making a few subtle enquiries, Louise discovers that with the help of Arthur and his supernatural ceremony, Alice may be returned “on loan” for three days to allow enough time for goodbyes. Agreeing to Arthur's stipulations, Louise and Patrick secretly plan to ignore boundary rules and leave Wake Wood, extending their time with Alice. In a nod to Pet Cemetery, as the days pass it becomes apparent something is terribly wrong with Alice.
Wake Wood is definitely not for the squeamish - the opening sequence includes the brutal bone crunching noises that become part and parcel of its soundscape. Alice being mauled by a ferocious dog is just the start as we witness a dog being run over, a cow crushing a man to death, crows hung from trees, animals being butchered, a bloody cocoon-like birth and a woman having her heart ripped out; Keating certainly seems to be saying nature is bloody.
Where Wake Wood masters the art of gore, it fails in allowing us to take the film seriously, or indeed outright laugh at it. Eerie shots of villagers banging sticks together are the start of a myriad of possible Wicker Man comparisons. Character reactions are generally unconvincing as Patrick and Louise matter-of-factly dig up their daughter's decomposing body to remove a finger and Spall explains “The Ritual of the Return” as if it's a natural part of his routine. Family montages showing our protagonists' reunion with Alice are sickening, as is the tiresome prolonged burial scene with the “once upon a time” story that blatantly attempts to link the film to Celtic mythology.
The script unfortunately perfectly complements badly written characters by obviously signposting later events and managing to highlight how preposterous the film's premise is: “What goes on in Wake Wood is not for everyone...life forces run strong in Wake Wood.” We're helpfully told early on that Alice is “not right” and witness the whispered voices she hears. In trying to create an Omen-like presence, Keating has certainly managed to cast a very serious-looking sinister child who is one of the tenuous strengths of the film.
Wake Wood's use of jarring camera angles and distorted shots are another positive, making everything feel off kilter. Keating wastes little time in setting up the scenario and imaginatively uses a whirring wind farm. The use of snowy, dark, wet nights and storms are of course a horror cliché, but put here to good effect. Flashbacks to happier days are clearly often repeated shots, indicating the film's modest budget.
Although Wake Wood centres around something we can all empathise with - a couple's grief and difficulty in saying goodbye – it's hard not to feel somewhat cheated by its irritating cyclic and entirely unnecessary twist and ending. After a three year break since the release of his skate park documentary, perhaps Keating should have paid closer attention to the film's message and left this particular script rotting in peace.
Wake Wood will be released in UK theaters on 25 March.
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