No sun. Perpetual rain. It’s the weather, I suspect, that makes the British Isles home to so many spectacularly hideous works of horror. Writers like W W Jacobs and Arthur Machen have been frightening the wits out of unwary readers for over a hundred years, while Hammer Films have been weaving similarly nightmarish visions in cinema since the 1950s.
Wake Wood, one of a clutch of new offerings from a freshly revived Hammer, harks back to a long tradition of horror that is distinctly of the British Isles. Set in a quiet village somewhere in Ireland, it has a loamy, dank atmosphere that recalls Jacobs’ startling short story, The Monkey’s Paw, and vague echoes of the folky weirdness on display in the 1971 film, The Blood On Satan’s Claw.
Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle star as Patrick and Louise, the former a vet, the latter a pharmacist, whose relationship is beset by tragedy. When their daughter is mauled to death by a savage dog, the grief-stricken parents retreat from their imposing city home to the quiet backwater of Wake Wood in attempt to come to terms with their loss.
While Louise works at a local pharmacy, Patrick looks after the livestock on a farm belonging to sinister landowner, Arthur (Timothy Spall, clad head to foot in tweed). Following a bizarre accident involving a cow and an unexpected glimpse of a midnight occult ritual, Patrick and Louise decide that Wake Wood’s a bit too creepy for comfort. But then, just as they’re prepared to pack up all their belongings and leave, Arthur makes the couple an offer they can’t refuse: the chance to bring their daughter back from the dead.
Naturally, reviving a dead body doesn’t come without consequence, and Wake Wood soon takes a grim, supernatural turn.
A horror film that isn’t afraid to freely reference numerous genre touchstones that came before it, the influence of such films as Don’t Look Now is obvious throughout, and Wake Wood could be seen as an Irish rendering of Nic Roeg’s 1973 classic with cattle standing in for canals.
Gillen and Birthistle seldom display the chemistry of Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, and David Keating’s direction lacks the time bending artistry of Roeg’s, but Wake Wood is nevertheless a tense, enjoyably retro horror.
Its themes of grief and rebirth are cleverly illustrated, and while Wake Wood lags a little after the first hour, where events take on a rather more predictable hue that recalls films like Pet Sematary or the Macaulay Culkin thriller, The Good Son, the film rallies for a great final few minutes.
A film that goes for an old-school build-up of tension while introducing some decidedly modern flashes of in-your-face gore, Wake Wood is a modest yet surprisingly effective latter day offering from Hammer.
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