29 March 2011


It turns out that the third time is the charm for the reinvigorated Hammer studios. After the commercially disappointing Let Me In and all-around disappointment The Resident, the studio blasts back with the kind of film only they used to make, and it's a pretty gripping horror flick.

Wake Wood is the name of a rural township, and Patrick and Louise are a bereaved couple who relocate there after being struck by tragedy. Their young daughter was killed, and their marriage has suffered from their collective grief. But Rabbit Hole it ain't, because Wake Wood has a secret. Through a dark ritual, the town elects to help out Patrick and Louise, but it means meddling in forces that soon spiral out of their control.

It's no disservice to the film to be so vague about its story, because the major turn-off for some will be that it's very predictable. That's generally because the way that horror films are structured and the way their characters are built are recognisable, but the predictability of the story doesn't get in the way of the fact that it's a very well made film. In fact, the things that are good about it almost obscure the inevitable from the viewer.

For one thing, it's a horror film that puts the effort into getting very good actors to give good performances, which was one of the main reasons that I trumpeted the praises of The Last Exorcism all last year. Patrick and Louise are ably played by Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle, who are both equally able to pull off the characters' inconsolable grief and their later enterprise in exploiting the supernatural. Timothy Spall looks like the best thing about it, with his genial creepiness as pillar of the community and hoodoo-monger Arthur, but unexpectedly, it's young newcomer Ella Connolly who steals the show.

There might not be much unexpected about her actual character of course, but as I've said, I didn't mind the fact that I could see my way to the film's conclusion from the first ten minutes because I was enjoying the film on the whole. There are a couple of missteps, like the odd sensationalised surgery scenes, carried over from The Resident. You could argue that the animal C-section performed by veterinarian Patrick foreshadows later events, but it still seems kind of strange to me.

But on the plus side, it has to be said that this is something different, the likes of which I haven't seen in a horror film for a good length of time. Its roots snake through The Wicker Man and Don't Look Now, but it never feels less vital for its obvious influences. It's not merely the performance, but the slightly grimy look of the whole thing. It's not a clinical or over-polished film like The Resident- its ends are not cauterised and cleaned up but left hanging, to the effect of making it feel very edgy and intense.

If, as suggested, Hammer's future is in remaking its older hits such as Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires or Captain Kronos, here's hoping they find time for more films like Wake Wood. The small budget makes for an inventive endeavour from a strong cast and a skilled crew. It is kind of predictable and it's not exactly a game-changer, I admit. However, it's also the kind of film that can't have cost an awful lot, but which gets the job done anyway, and in a way that's grisly and strangely satisfying.

Wake Wood is now available on DVD.
If you've seen Wake Wood, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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