Notable Cast: Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly
Review: Hammer Films Productions is really trying to make a splash in the retro horror genre lately. Between last year’s Let Me In, the abysmal voyeur thriller The Resident, and now Wake Wood; the company is a solid 2 for 3. Bringing to light everything the company is trying to focus on, Wake Wood takes the more low-budget and story driven horror road, instead of a high-profile slasher formula. While the film tries momentarily to squeeze in a few scares, it plays out more like an old “Twilight Zone” episode or a Stephen King-esque thriller. You won’t find any real horror moments here in fact, but that doesn’t mean Wake Wood is without a decent story. There’s a creepy gothic feel to Wake Wood, and it plays out with enough of a dread filled factor to show that solid story telling still trumps random gore any day. Go ahead. Grab a Guinness, turn down the lights, and switch on this little piece of Irish/UK storytelling for some creepy, back woods shivers.
Couple Patrick (Gillen) and Louise (Birthistle) have been residing in the sleepy little town of Wake Wood to escape the untimely death of their only daughter Alice (Ella Connolly). Patrick is a simple veterinarian, while Louise runs the local pharmacy. But when their car breaks down and the couple try ringing Patrick’s boss Arthur (Spall) at his house, Louise stumbles upon a strange ritual happening around back. She watches on as the townsfolk chant mysteriously, and Louise witnesses what she thinks is some kind of birth. When she starts noticing strange actions from certain townsfolk, Louise starts snooping and uncovers a mystical secret: the town of Wake Wood has the power to bring people back to life for only three days. The villagers look at this time as an opportunity to say goodbye, and make the best of last moments. Louise is then able to persuade Patrick to let Arthur bring Alice back to life for the three-day period. But there are rules to follow in Wake Wood when playing with dark arts; rules that keep people safe. Rules that grief filled parents are willing to ignore just to see their precious child again. What starts out as innocent family time, turns into the realization that there are rules for a reason. Patrick and Louise must figure out how to keep a handle on their daughter, while making sure none of the townspeople figure out something is amiss with their resurrected daughter.
There is no doubt that the breakout performance in Wake Wood was youngster Ella Connolly. She plays Alice, the daughter Patrick and Louise bring back to life for three whole days. Credit the casting because Ella was actually convincingly creepy for such a tiny package. Alice was part innocent child with a short new lease on life, part evil little girl from hell who has no desire to leave the real world. Ella’s dead gaze, as seen in the snap shot above, made it impossible to tell what was going on behind that blank exterior. We had to believe and be afraid of a tot that was a tenth of the size of the people she was tormenting. But Ella embodied the role perfectly. When she strolled on-screen, there was always an uneasy feeling lingering around, waiting to see how Alice could delve even deeper into darkness. Wake Wood took a gamble because most of the success was heavily dependent on the small horrors delivered by Connolly. Luckily, Ella asserts herself as a pint-sized supernatural force to be reckoned with and carries Wake Wood the dreary end.
So think of Wake Wood as a re-imagining of King’s Pet Sematary, for obvious reasons. Writers David Keating and Brendan McCarthy kept Wake Wood in its own vein though, turning the process into a cult ritual instead of simply finding a haunted burial ground. The atmosphere created was much of an old timey feel, making Patrick and Louise immediate sore thumbs among the community. It was obvious something was amiss in such an unpopulated and rural town, but the revelation was chilling. Seeing the townsfolk participate in the ritual was interesting to the story because the main characters now had to be weary of an entire town, in a way which created a no turning back attitude. But amongst the story that could be referred to as a tad bit slow for some tastes, there were a few kills to keep horror fans happy. They aren’t lavish, gore spewing gut churners, bust special non the less. The clincher that makes these kills so unique is who they are committed by though, and with such ease. The final act of Wake Wood serves as the strongest portion of the film for this reason. When all hell breaks loose, Wake Wood really steps its game up, and ends on a much higher note than the preceding portions of the film let on to.
An uncharacteristic movie for me to like, Wake Wood takes slow and steady all the way to spooky town. You won’t be jumping out of your seat or covering your eyes, but you’ll think twice to mess with powers you can’t comprehend. But, let that be a testament to the final product, and the sheer strength of a good story. Nothing could have been accomplished though without the incredibly talented child actor Ella Connolly, who was the perfect fit for Alice. How you get someone so young to comprehend such a character is beyond me, but whoever accomplished this deserves a giant pat on the back. Whenever Alice was lurking in the background, I couldn’t help but get a few tingles running down my spine. All in all, those in the mood for something different and a little slower will find much to enjoy about Wake Wood. I wouldn’t watch it again any time soon per say, but watching once left a positive enough impression on me to pass the word to others. Plus, it was good enough for me not to fill up 1000 words with nothing but “wood” jokes, so mission accomplished.
Final Rating: 7 random windmills out of 10