DVD Review: Wake Wood

Directed By David Keating
Starring Aiden Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Ella Conolly and Timothy Spall



Hammer Films are back. The legendary British horror studio that brought Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee much of their fame was on the brink of bankruptcy in the late ’70s and lay dormant until a few years ago when the company was bought out by new owners. After shuffling vampire webseries Beyond the Rave onto the ‘net and producing US remake Let Me In and American psycho-thriller The Resident, their latest offering Wake Wood – a brooding tale of Pagan rituals and creepy backwoods farm towns – is the closest the resurrected studio has come to recapturing the spirit of classic Hammer. Sadly it also bears more than a passing resemblance to a laundry list of other classic horror films, too.
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After their daughter Alice is mauled to death by a vicious dog, young married couple Patrick (Aiden Gillen) and Louise (Eva Birthistle) relocate to the sleepy, close-knit farm town of Wake Wood. Unable to have another child due to complications during Alice’s birth and finding it impossible to move on from the tragic loss of their child, the couple drift through their daily lives irreparably broken. After a flat tire on the outskirts of town leads them to discover the townspeople performing a bizarre Pagan ritual, town elder Arthur (Timothy Spall) explains the ceremony, revealing that he can bring the dead back to life, but only for three days. Leaping at the chance to see their daughter again, the couple soon have Alice back, but toying with the boundaries of life and death has rules and consequences that’ll soon catch up with them.

It’s oddly fitting that this movie should come from Hammer Films; with inspiration cribbed from sources as far and wide as Pet Sematary, The Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now, The Good Son, Carrie and beyond, Wake Wood is a cinematic horror stitched together from so many dug-up bits and pieces that it often feels like something Peter Cushing should be cooking up in a lab. The film’s derivative story is certainly a major issue keeping Wake Wood from greatness, but it’s sadly not the only one. The tendency towards excessive jump scares and low budget gore only makes the film seem cheap and lazy, while the violence is often awkwardly gratuitous. Case in point: to complete the resurrection ritual, the couple need something personal to Alice – Arthur says a lock of hair would be perfect, so rather than clip some hair from her corpse, Patrick gruesomely hacks off a finger. Throw in a nonsensical ending and an occasionally muddled script Wake Wood is certainly a flawed film.
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Thankfully there’s still a lot to enjoy, and it’s to the cast and director’s credit that it’s still a creepy, well-made film, albeit a naggingly familiar one. Eva Birthistle (star of other sinister Brit kid movie The Children) and Aiden Gillen (best known as The Wire’s Tommy Carcetti and last seen in ITV dramas Identity and Thorne) are both excellent, with Gillen putting aside his oft-used shifty villain act to play a more sombre, fractured character. The two give the film a surprisingly effective emotional undercurrent, and Ella Conolly is impressively creepy as their back-from-the-dead daughter Alice. When the film’s not resorting to cheap gore and tired shocks, director David Keating is excellent at cultivating a dread-filled atmosphere and plenty of unsettling tension to trump the easy scares.

They might be worlds (or at least continents) apart in terms of setting and story, but Wake Wood certainly feels close in quality and approach to Hammer Film’s other recent thriller The Resident. Like the US-set Hilary Swank/Jeffrey Dean Morgan thriller, Wake Wood is an often familiar, derivative horror outing, but with an excellent cast and oodles of style, atmosphere and unsettling moments, it holds up as a solid, creepy and entertaining film, even if it’s not a massively original one.
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The DVD from Momentum Pictures boasts an excellent visual transfer and an effective Dolby Digital 5.1 track, along with English subtitles.

The special features include 20 minutes of cast and crew interviews which cover plenty of ground, from script to final product, a teaser trailer and a theatrical trailer. Rounding out the disc is a 14 minute collection of deleted scenes. They’re interesting to see, but are mostly redundant and were wisely scrapped, showcasing some of the film’s worst acting and writing.

The Film:

The DVD:




Wake Wood is available to buy on DVD in the UK now.
Click here to order it from Amazon.co.uk.