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Wake Wood (2011, Ireland)

01/04/2011

Director: David Keating    Starring: Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall

While it is open to debate whether or not the new Hammer has anything to do with the original Hammer Studios or is simply a cynical cash in on a vibrant period of British cinema history I can honestly say that I’m delighted to welcome them back to the screen, even if it is in name only. I have yet to see The Resident and don’t really feel the need to see the Let The Right One In remake Let Me In but on the strength of Wake Wood it seems to me that at least some of the Hammer ethos from the sixties and seventies lives on in its new incarnation.

Rooted in the sort of agrarian horror that was the bread and butter of sixties British horror (think The Witches, Wicker Man and Blood On Satan’s Claw), Wake Wood is about a couple who move to the small village of Wake Wood in order to deal with their grief over the death of their young daughter. They soon discover all is not what it seems in the village and that the apparent leader of the villagers, Arthur (an ambiguously sinister turn from Timothy Spall at his creepiest since Dream Demon) has access to power that could reunite them, if only temporarily, with their dead daughter. When little Alice returns to them though, there is something definitely amiss, something that may have dire consequences for them and the community.

I really rather enjoyed it. It’s sufficiently creepy (although I do tend to find most films with resurrected or spooky kids quite creepy) and appropriately gory and altogether rather successfull as a horror film. The performances from Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle as the grieving Patrick and Louise are convincingly strained, Eva conveying the desperation to see her daughter again particularly well. Timothy Spall is the star of the show though, his quiet and calm village elder treading an extremely fine line between benevolence and dark malice to the point where you can’t be quite sure if he is giving his powers out of a sense of kindness or to some darker purpose. Ella Connolly is also excellent as the resurrected Alice, simultaneously cute and sinister.

There are a couple of problems though. It’s a minor point but (unusually) I felt like the film could have done with being a little bit longer. The speed with which Patrick and Louise are willing to accept Arthur’s claims that he can reunite them with their dead daughter is a bit alarming, especially considering she is a pharmacist and he a vet therefore presumably both of scientific mind. I personally would have liked a little bit more time for them to have doubts about the prospect and to be convinced of Arthur’s power. It’s a minor niggle. A more serious concern is the jittery camera work that mars the proceedings. Presumably a conscious attempt to give the film a contemporary, edgy feel it serves as a bit of an own goal and cuts against the grain of the rest of the film. I’d have preferred a quieter, calmer style better suited to the sleepy village setting and slow burning plot.

As an early outing for a back-from-the-dead Hammer this shows a lot of promise and fills me with hope for the future of its output. Let’s hope Hammer’s magic is more permanent than the Pagan powers at work in Wake Wood.

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