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December 16, 2011

Wake Wood

(2011, Dir. by David Keating.)

There's something that's just not right about Wake Wood

I mean, we can certainly see that this is a production of the legendary Hammer Films studio - which has long been one of my favorite things in the world - and there are moments throughout the film that meet our expectations about Hammer horror completely.  And yet, as I watched Wake Wood unfold in front of me, I couldn't help getting this feeling in my gut that what I was seeing just....wasn't right

That feeling becomes a bit of a contradiction when you consider that the film's plot - in which a couple makes a devilish deal to restore their deceased daughter to life - focuses heavily on its characters having that same gut feeling.  As we watch the couple - played by The Wire's Aidan GIllen and The Children's Eva Birthistle - struggle with their emotions as they spend time with their formerly dead daughter (Ella Connolly), we probably shouldn't be struggling with our own emotions about the film's tone. 

Perhaps the film's tagline - which proclaims that 'The Dead Should Never Be Woken" - should have been something the filmmakers thought about the studio backing their film.  Wake Wood certainly feels like the most Hammer of Hammer's new breed of films, since it's rooted more in horror traditions than the remake Let Me In or the modern thriller The Resident.  But calling the film a Hammer production and making the film seem kind of like a Hammer production is a recipe for trouble to dedicated horror fans, as the similarities seem to enhance the differences.  It's kind of like meeting another horror fan and being really excited to hear they like zombie movies too, until you find out that their favorite is House of the Dead and they just can't stand George Romero's first three zombie flicks.  And then you're like "Oh, yeah, we do both love zombie flicks...but we don't really love the same things about zombie flicks at all."

And though Wake Wood walks and talks like a classic horror tale from the Hammer studios, the manner in which the film is presented created a distance between it and myself.  I liked ideas the film had - like Connolly's uneasy performance as the reborn daughter and the images of the residents of Wake Wood gathering to keep their community (and its supernatural forces) strong - but the presentation of the events didn't meet what I'd expect to see from a Hammer film.  I was probably too judgmental of the film to be truly fair, as I was judging everything from the camera angle to the lighting to the actors (who, aside from the great Timothy Spall, were just to shiny and new to be Hammer stars), but when I hear Hammer and gothic horror in the same sentence my mind fills with images of times gone by and old fashioned sound effects and wonderful music.  And the people that made Wake Wood had an entirely different vision of what their film was going to be than what I expected.

So, when the film pulls up to a dramatic climax, I was left annoyed by an intrusive wind turbine and the fact that I didn't think there were enough rustling leaves and was just nor sure that the heroine's hair was thick enough to blow perfectly in the wind that fills this wooded setting.  (Which is ridiculous, I know.)  And then when the film negated that climax with two more twists that were both handled with absolute silliness, I was ready to rant and roll like I am now.

I'm guessing I'm gonna have to watch Wake Wood again someday when I know that it's not REALLY a throwback to what Hammer used to be.  There were a lot of things I liked about the movie, like Spall and Connolly and some surprising scenes in which the undead youngster is involved in bloodshed, but I couldn't get past that feeling in my gut that the story of Wake Wood was wasted in a modern setting that didn't allow the Hammer magic that I love to really shine through.  I know that I hold Hammer to a higher standard than most, but I still feel like the film could have been a little bit more than what it was.

I might be way off base.  There was a scene shortly after the couple had their daughter returned to them that took my breath away, as some slick editing showed how the parents' exaltation evolved into romantic fervor once they put their daughter to bed for the first time in nearly 12 months.  I can't deny that the story within Wake Wood doesn't have its perks, but I think the film got stuck in a cinematic dead zone between modern horror and gothic horror.  Wake Wood would have been better off sliding one direction or the other, because it's the dual nature of the film that distracted me from really finding my way to the heart of Wake Wood.


: said...

Great review. I loved the "friends who likes zombie movies too" analogy. :)


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