How appropriate that Hammer‘s first theatrical release for 30 years should be a story based around rebirth. A couple who lost their young daughter to a savage dog attack are granted her back for three days, but three days only. Enough time to say their goodbyes, then they must relinquish her back to the grave.
Vet Patrick (Aidan Gillan) and pharmacist Louise (Eva Birthistle) set out to begin a new life in Wakewood (it’s all one word on the road sign), but they stumble into a patriarchal society with a secret knowledge of resurrection. The Lord Summerisle of the piece is Timothy Spall, all tweeded up and softly spoken as Arthur, the leader of the community.
The rebirthing ritual is suitably convoluted and gory and it visually mirrors Patrick’s work as a vet delivering calves. It requires a dead body, and luckily a man gets crushed by an unruly bull on cue, so that’s that sorted. It also requires a relic from the person to be resurrected, so it gives Patrick and Louise the chance to go to their daughter’s grave at night and exhume her. In classic Hammer style it’s pouring with rain as Patrick shovels out the earth and splits the coffin lid with Louise looking on.
Sure enough, via lots of goo, ritual spine cutting and fire, nine year old Alice (Ella Connolly) is given another three days alive with her parents. There are strict rules to keep to and the stipulations need to be exact. Unfortunately Mum and Dad were a little lax with one of the key elements and things go slightly awry.
Wake Wood tries so hard to be a folk horror film, but it is way too physical and modern looking. There isn’t a grounding in deep time. We don’t get the history of the place and the background of the characters is scant. I would have liked to have got to know them better and cared for them more.
The editing is at times overdone. Long, lingering, haunting shots are largely absent, and I think this harms the build up of atmosphere. I don’t think the film’s problems are budget related. Sure, it was made without spending millions, but wouldn’t it be cheaper to film fewer shots and edit them more thoughtfully? It has the look of a TV movie in parts. Contrast this with another low budget British folk horror movie, The Borderlands (2013) to observe how creepiness can be created via stasis.
The supernatural element isn’t brought forward often enough, and the gore is unpleasant to look at, but not scary. There are nice touches, for example a small wind farm delineates the outer perimeter of the town, the huge white windmills marking a boundary between old and new.
The ending is extremely clever. The more I think about it, the more it seems a really creepy idea. Could a Wake Wood 2 develop from it?
The film was directed by David Keating. He hired Chris Maris as cinematographer after seeing his work on the Swedish horror flick Frostbite (2006). Despite its extremely Irish look, much of Wake Wood was filmed in Sweden. Judging by other reviews lots of people rate this picture highly, and at the core it has heart and guts and deserves to be seen. Hammer are always welcome at Film Night.