Hammer Films are 2 and 1 in my book with LET ME IN being their other hit (THE RESIDENT being somewhat of a lackluster entry), but WAKE WOOD is by far the one most reminiscent of Hammer films of old, if you ask me. Though it doesn’t have Christopher Lee hissing at a leaping Peter Cushing or damsels sporting fancy dress and loads of cleavage, WAKE WOOD is a straight up and unapologetic horror film through and through. Writer/director David Keating pulls off a story of loss and the lengths we all will go to avoid it.
Patrick and Louise are trying to put their marriage back together after the tragic death of their daughter Alice (Ella Connolly). The couple moves to the simple town of Wake Wood for a new start. With Louise working in the pharmacy and Patrick taking up as the town veterinarian, everything seems hunky-dory. But when the couple’s car breaks down on the side of the road, they witness a ritual performed by the town elders which seemingly brings back to life a person who had recently died. Louise (played by Eva Birthistle) immediately wants to perform the ritual on their recently deceased daughter. Patrick (played as surprisingly likable by Aidan Gillen, who has been known to play complete shits in THE WIRE and GAME OF THRONES) is more than a little leary, but wants to please his wife. If you’ve seen PET SEMETARY, you know where this is going. Alice is brought back, but something is definitely off with her. Horror ensues. But whereas the overrated PET SEMATARY exceeds in camp over chills, WAKE WOOD plays things deadly straight and never stumbles all the way until the diabolical little ending.
I got a whiff of DON’T LOOK NOW (the Donald Sutherland classic about parents haunted by the ghost of their dead daughter) and even ALICE SWEET ALICE while watching WAKE WOOD, especially since this Alice wears a yellow slicker similar to the little monsters of those films. But despite the similarities to other horror films, WAKE WOOD is a wicked little film with a lot of scares and druidian Old English horror you don’t see a lot of in modern cinema. The acting is top notch with Gillen (sporting an unfortunate head of hair in this one) and Birthistle serving up heartbreaking performances. Timothy Spall is, as usual, fantastic as the town elder who performs the ritual and little Ella Connolly does a fantastically haunting job as Alice without the amateur air that usually hangs around child actors in this sort of role (see Gage in PET SEMATARY). With no punches pulled when it comes to gloom and gore, along with performances of the tip top notch, WAKE WOOD capably upholds the great tradition that is Hammer Films.