Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wake Wood (2011)

After their little daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) was bitten to death by a dog, veterinarian Patrick (Aidan Gillen) and his wife, pharmacist Louise (Eva Birthistle), have moved to the small country town of Wake Wood to get over the loss a bit more easily.

Now, about a year after Alice's death, the couple has reached the stage in their grieving process experts call "clinical depression". Especially Louise still can't cope the loss at all, a problem that's not made smaller by the fact that she knows she won't be able to have any further children. But it turns out that Wake Wood is just the right (or maybe just the wrong, given the movie's genre) place the couple could have come to.

The town's inhabitants semi-secretly still follow certain pagan traditions they are willing to share with Louise and Patrick. With the right ritual, there's the possibility to bring back to life anyone who hasn't been dead for more than a year, at least for three days, which surely is better than nothing. The couple is desperate enough to go through the rather frightening ritual, and their daughter is reborn.

However, not everything is well; something's just not right with Alice apart from the fact that dead little girls shouldn't walk around.

As far as I know, some amount of money of the revived Hammer Films went into the production of Wake Wood, though I'm not sure in how far this is "A Hammer Production" in the sense that the re-animated studio had actual influence on the film, and not just a film Hammer bought to put their logo on the DVD after the fact.

It doesn't matter too much anyhow, because, unlike that unnecessary Let The Right One In remake and the horrible Beyond the Rave, Wake Wood is a film that has a lot more going for it than the once good name of Hammer. For one, the film has a more than decent script, that - apart from an ending that asks for more suspension of disbelief than I'm able to achieve and the fact that there wouldn't have been much of a plot if the local pagans had bothered to explain what can go wrong with their rituals under which circumstances a little better - is well constructed, features believable grown-up characters, and does the classical clever horror film trick of using the supernatural to explore some rather horrible emotional depths.

Director David Keating manages to tell a story that could have easily turned into bad melodrama in a dignified way that doesn't shy away from looking at the less picturesque truths about loss. Wake Wood doesn't look down when it comes to its characters' suffering, but it's not a film whose cruelty is gratuitous or without compassion.

I'm also quite enamoured with the pagan ritual at the core of the film's plot. The whole set-up, especially how the archaic and the modern come together in the way the townsfolk practice their religion, carries an air of authenticity. Here, I think, do the comparisons between Wake Wood and The Wicker Man I've seen made come in, but except for the believable religious set-up, both films have nothing much in common; there are completely different aesthetic and thematic interests at work in both films. Be that as it may, it's not difficult to believe that, if there were pagan necromantic rituals that actually do work, they'd look a lot like the one in Wake Wood.

I'm not as enamoured by the film's visual presentation. The cinematography is at times a bit bland, and Keating as a director does not seem to be too interested in the "visual" part of visual storytelling, and wastes some opportunities of enhancing the film's mood further through the landscape it takes place in. Obviously, the film's visibly low budget couldn't have helped there.

Nonetheless, I can heartily recommend Wake Wood. There isn't that much horror made with a grown-up audience in mind around right now, and the films strengths are winning out over its weaknesses quite nicely.


No comments: