3 out of 10

Release Date: 25th March 2011

Director: David Keating: (THE LAST OF THE HIGH KINGS)

Cast: Aiden Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly, Amelia Crowley and Ruth McCabe

Writer: Brendan McCarthy

Trailer: WAKE WOOD

Wake Wood was Hammer House of Horror‘s second official film since it was re-launched with Let Me In in early 2011.  It was also the first release for the British wing of the brand.  The Resident was the third and The Woman In Black was the fourth and most recent.  Unfortunately, despite having a very spooky premise, Wake Wood is neutered by it’s execution.  It has the worst cinematography I’ve ever seen in a studio film and the editing has been done with a rusty knife and fork.  The sound is terrible and the majority of the acting looks like it was done in one take with no rehearsal.  So how did this intriguing stinker with a good story get into the hands of this group of amateur prats? Looking back on the director’s credits I see he’s responsible for a pretty damn good coming of age tale called The Last Of The High Kings back in the late 1990s, so I’m at a loss at to how it’s come out this way.

The plot, as I said is great.  A young couple, a vet, Padraig (AIDEN GILLEN – THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) and  Louise, a pharmacist (EVA BIRTHISTLE – THE CHILDREN) move to the remote Irish village of Wake Wood to start again after the death of their 9 year old daughter, Alice (ELLA CONNOLLY). She was savaged by a neighbourhood dog.  Their choice would seem to be coincidental but an introduction to the local squire, Arthur, another twisty, creepy turn by Timothy Spall (VANILLA SKY) gives them a chance to see Alice again.  If their lost loved one has been in the ground less than twelve months, they can be returned, memories intact, for three days in order for the family to say goodbye properly.  Once the child is back though, events don’t quite go to plan.

The ritual of bringing back the dead is imaginatively staged and interesting to watch (it’s probably the only reason to watch Wake Wood). Between this and Outcast, I think I’ll become an expert in the occult before too long.  The dynamics of the return and some unusual rules are also adhered to and easy to follow, and believable for the storyline’s sake.  However there is so much wrong with the film in other areas. The acting from all concerned is OK but everybody is let down by an undercooked script and scenes that seem chopped or badly assembled.  Early scenes are rushed through at the expense of a suspenseful build-up.  We get no sense of characterisation beyond a few lines that boldly underline that the mother can’t move on that she thinks her husband is trying to forget her.  A bad soundtrack sounds pasted into the film with no thought for dramatic tension. On the whole Wake Wood feels like a rush job.

When the plot hits it’s stride and all it’s cards have been shown, a series of events are sellotaped together with no rhyme or reason.  The motives or even plot dynamics become unclear.  Has Ella returned to curse the village for disturbing the dead or is she a demonic killer.  We do find out eventually but it’s badly structured and it’s clunky.  The coda too is pretty insulting if the remaining characters are staying true to type.

3 out of 10 – A mixture of great ideas executed in such a fashion that it looks like a rush job. A film no one cared about therefore making it a very strange choice to launch the UK side of Hammer House of Horror again.  It does have a better plot than The Woman In Black though but that had a comparatively huge budget to spend on production and people to hype it.  A pity because it also serves a wasted opportunity as it’s a rare horror these days that comes with new ideas.


  • Aiden Gillen: Maze Runner 2, Still, CalvaryMister John, Game Of Thrones (TV), Shadow Dancer,  The Dark Knight Rises, Treacle Jr, Blitz, Twelve Rounds, The Wire (TV), Shanghai Knights, The Low Down, Queer As Folk (TV), My Kingdom, Some Mother’s Son, Mojo, Circle Of Friends
  • Eva Birthistle: Day of the Flowers, Waking The Dead (TV), The Children, Imagine Me & You, Breakfast On Pluto, Borstal Boy, Ae Fond Kiss
  • Timothy Spall: Mr Turner, The Love Punch, The Rise, Love Bite, Ginger and Rosa, Comes a Bright Day, Harry Potter – parts 3 – 8, Reuniting The Rubins, The King’s SpeechHeartless,  Alice In Wonderland (2011) (voice), Apaloosa, The Damned Utd, Sweeney Todd, Pierrepoint, Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events, The Last Samurai, Nicholas Nickleby (2002),  All Or Nothing, Vanilla Sky, Rock Star, Lucky Break, Chicken Run (voice), Loves Labours Lost,  Topsy Turvy, Still Crazy, Wisdom Of Crocodiles, Hamlet (1996), Secrets & Lies, Life Is Sweet, The Sheltering Sky, White Hunter Black Heart, To Kill a Priest, The Missionary, Auf Wierdesen Pet (TV), Quadrophenia
  • Ruth McCabe: Run & Jump, Philomena, Breakfast On Pluto, Inside I’m Dancing, Intermission, The Closer You Get, Titanic Town, An Awfully Big Adventure, Circle Of Friends, The Snapper, My Left Foot

One thought on “WAKE WOOD


    Children can be so cruel. Particularly when they’ve been resurrected from the dead having been savaged by a peckish pooch. Such is the premise of WAKE WOOD a good but frustratingly flawed Hammer movie. (And it’s nice to have them back, so nice in fact that we here at Britpic seem to be ignoring that it seems to be an Irish-Swedish co-production.)
    So Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle (both of whom are competent though not outstanding here), having lost their daughter, move to the vaguely celtic countryside to grieve/forget/start again. But they have failed to do their research. The local speciality is raising the dead, but only for a short time – the grieving are granted a few days to say goodbye. And of course they cannot resist. And so they make a deal. And of course the deal is flawed. And of course it all ends in tears. And blood and guts and dead animals all over the place.
    At the start the creepy little girl is given a pet hamster. I think it’s the only animal that doesn’t get killed in the whole film. (Unless the dog ate it as well as the girl.) But this is a film about that crazy cycle called life, and it tends to dwell on the ends of lives and how we deal (badly) with that. But the villagers of Wake Wood deal rather well with death, they’ve come up with a rather impressive, if grisly, resurrection technique, which forms the highlight of the film. It is one of the things in the film’s favour that the seemingly weird pagan villagers are in fact without malice, as are our heroes, but they are without belief. The film may have quite a simple point to make, that we are disconnected from nature and that only by embracing it can we actually live, and that by not playing fair with the land and life we are destroying ourselves (maybe).
    There is much that is wrong with WAKE WOOD, purely in basic technical terms. A lot of the dialogue sounds awful, as most of it has been redubbed in some sort of subterranean echo chamber. There are some deeply dodgy edits; at one point it looks as if our three protagonists have been teleported mid-conversation to a completely different location, rather than just being shot from a different angle. And the acting doesn’t always work. Now, I love Timothy Spall. On a good day, there is no finer actor around. WAKE WOOD seems to have caught him on a rare bad day. He is hampered by an accent which might charitably be described as geographically inexact yet vaguely rural. But even when we first see him, he looks wrong, as if he’s going to camp it up (he doesn’t, but there’s something a little OTT in his bearing). As the film goes on, he becomes more natural, but there’s just something jarring about his first appearance. (But then again, Christopher Lee sticks out like an infected digit in a certain well known film with which this has a few similarities and that never did it any harm).
    But these problems are nothing compared to the plot holes and plausibility gaps the film frequently exhibits. One example above all may suffice. As mentioned earlier, the little girl is killed by a dog. She is subsequently resurrected. And what do her parents do? They let her play with a dog. And keep it. Would you really? And on several other occasions, you just think ‘they wouldn’t do that’, or ‘that’s a silly thing to do’. Their decision to leave the village seems dictated more by the requirements of the plot than by anything which has happened to make them try to leave. And even after it all goes horribly wrong, the villagers seem to be a remarkably forgiving bunch.
    And yet. Although WAKE WOOD is a bit of a mess, there is something haunting and oddly compelling about it. Maybe it is the story itself. It may not be the most original story (it is in many ways a variation on the classic ghost story ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, a radio adaptation of which terrified me twenty-five years ago), and yes, the finale does see a fair deal of slaughter, but it does feel different. There’s none of that found-footage nonsense, no psychopaths killing ‘because they can’, it is just a simple tale of people dealing with death and grief and pain (it’s just that one of them deals with death by going on a rampant vengeful animal-killing spree).
    I watched WAKE WOOD and TRUTH OR DARE on consecutive nights. The latter is a much better executed piece of work, but is ultimately nothing more than an entertaining shocker; WAKE WOOD, for all its faults, or maybe even because of them, works: the atmosphere is full of dread. This is one of those films where you feel that it’s all going to go horribly wrong at any moment right from the start. At forty-one minutes I checked the remaining running time simply because I was worried (yes, actually worried) about what was going to happen later in the film. I’m sure a better film could be made using these ideas, but this one is distinctive and distressing. This is quite the opposite to TRUTH OR DARE. That was a safe film, where you knew where you were, and what to think; this is much more disturbing, very messy (and I don’t just mean with all the blood and guts hanging around – in fact someone is listed in the end credits as being responsible for ‘Blood and gore’ – most of it belonging to dead animals) and disquieting.
    As the film reached its conclusion, and I found myself thinking that here was a pretty good film, the coda undoes a lot of the good work. I’ve gone on before about the importance of twist endings. This film has two. The first twist is rather brilliant, and makes sense, and with just a little bit of rewriting would have been a perfect end to the film. But then, in the final shot of the movie it all goes horrendously, shudderingly, screamingly, utterly, bafflingly wrong. The final shot suggests a course of action is to take place which runs utterly contrary to everything we thought we knew about the characters. It is as if the producers looked at the film and said ‘good twist, but can you make it a little bit more twisted?’ If you can find a way of cutting the last three seconds of the film off, please do so. The original twist is just that – original and clever and surprising. But then with twist number 2 you just think, ‘nope, they’ve got that quite stunningly, entirely, disastrously, almost film-killingly wrong, what a shame’.
    But for all the problems – dodgy acting, under-writing, predictability, passing similarities with DON’T LOOK NOW, it’s still an extremely creepy and unsettling film, worth watching. It may be that the shortcomings will, in the future, add to the charm (‘charm’ is absolutely wrong word, so is ‘appeal’ but you get the gist; hopefully) of WAKE WOOD and it might, just might, become something of a cult.

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