Tuesday, 29 March 2011



Let's get a few facts out of the way right from the start: firstly, whatever else it might be, this is not a Hammer film. After all the annoyances at an apparently brand-new Hammer film not getting any kind of theatrical release in this country (which I blithered on about here) it transpires that the word Hammer appears nowhere on the simultaneously released DVD print. It might say "Hammer Presents" on the box art but there's no logo and there's no credit. Secondly, it doesn't even appear to be British: it's basically an Ireland/Sweden co-production.

Thirdly, it shouldn't even be called Wake Wood since the action actually takes place in a village called Wakewood! Following the tragic death of their young daughter, vet Aidan Gillen and his wife Eva Birthistle relocate to the countryside, where in the best Wicker Man traditions, things are obviously not what they seem. By chance, she witnesses a bizarre midnight ritual led by the village's head, Timothy Spall, which can bring back the dead for a three-day period: Gillen and Birthistle seize the opportunity to see their beloved child one last time and bid her a proper farewell. But with all these things there are strings attached - not least of which is that they can never leave the village. And while they and the returned child are blissfully happy for those three days, there's something wrong, and the villagers know it....

In parts, this is a very silly film: I admit I laughed at the cattle farmer's death early on. More damagingly, Gillen is a vet, and Birthistle reopens and runs the pharmacy: they both know the science of illness and death and yet not for a second do either of them question the occult ritual of resurrecting the dead. Instead they go blithely ahead and start digging up their child's grave.... Sadly, it's also not very well shot: it looks cheap and the night sequences are, yet again, too dark to see anything properly. (There's even a microphone visible in an early sequence.) On the other hand, it's certainly creepy, and the coda hints at something genuinely chilling and upsetting.

Even if it is a bit Wicker Man, a bit Monkey's Paw, and a (larger) bit Don't Look Now, it's certainly the kind of material we should be seeing more of in British cinemas, even though the final result is actually not as good as it should have been. Nonetheless, it's certainly more welcome than derivative and generic fare like The Resident, which carries the Hammer moniker more proudly and got a wide theatrical release. At least Wake Wood has ambitions and aspirations, even if it's not capable of fulfilling them - and gets what is in effect a straight DVD release. It's not a disaster: it's creepy (there's no way I'd spend more than a short afternoon in that village) and occasionally nasty, with some nifty gore effects, and it's always great to see Timothy Spall, but it is overall a disappointment.


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