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It is day 12 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween horror movie review a day feature. Today we are taking a look at an Irish and British collaboration in the form of Wake Wood from 2009. This is another movie, along with V/H/S, that I can’t rate astonishingly well. This collection of movies, however, is supposed to be about variety and Wake Wood is still definitely worth a watch as something a bit different.
Wake Wood was part of the Hammer Horror revival that also included Let Me In and The Quiet Ones. While not sharing many of the themes and traits of the original Hammer Horror, It’s nice to see the name doing the rounds again. Hammer Horror used to be a no brainer when you wanted slightly cheesy, B-movie horror. Its absences was definitely felt in the British horror movie industry. With that being said, let’s take a look at their first offering Wake Wood.
We are reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. These reviews will be shorter and more straight to the point than my standard format. We will feature a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire K-O-Ween feature by clicking right here.
Wake Wood, takes us to County Donegal in Northern Ireland, and the home of married couple Patrick, played by Aidan Gillen, and Louise, played by Eva Birthistle, and their daughter Alice. It is Alice’s 9th Birthday and Alice has received a hamster from her mum and a necklace from her dad.
Alice is sent off to school with the hamster in tow. On her way back from school, Alice enters the rear of her dad’s veterinary surgery to feed the dogs. Having not been properly secured, the dog breaks out of the gate and mauls Alice. Patrick and Louise rush out but, unfortunately, it is too late to save Alice.
A year later, the couple have moved to the small rural town of Wake Wood. Louise is still overcome with grief at losing Alice. She can no longer have children and the loss is causing problems in the couple’s marriage. Louise is thinking of leaving but Patrick wants her to stay and work things out. While out driving in the middle of nowhere, the couple’s car breaks down. Appearing to be in walking distance of Patrick’s veterinary colleague’s house, they begin to head that way.
When the couple arrive at the house of Arthur, played by Timothy Spall, they knock on the door and get no reply. Louise walks around the back of the house and notices Arthur leading what appears to be a pagan ritual of sorts. It is as if a person is born out of a mound of mud to the delight of the people at the festival. Somehow, Patrick doesn’t hear any of this despite it being a tiny town where the sound of a fart would probably carry miles. Louise, also, doesn’t tell Patrick what she saw but it is obvious that Arthur knew she was there.
The couple are helping out at a farm when a local farmer is crushed to death by a bull. Having had enough of all this country malarkey, Patrick tells Arthur they are leaving. Either due to a ridiculous lack of vets in Northern Ireland, or due to Arthur wanting to keep the secret of Wake Wood; Arthur tells the couple he can bring their child back to life. Patrick doesn’t believe him but, having witnessed the festival, Louise knows it is true. The couple, desperate to see Alice again, agree.
The ritual has a number of rules. The couple must stay with Alice within the bounds of Wake Wood; the death must have been less than one year ago; the couple will now be bound to Wake Wood for life; and Alice will only be alive for 3 days before she must return to the ground. The couple agree and provide the necessary information. There is one problem, however. The couple have not been honest about how long Alice has been dead for. The ritual commences, Alice returns to them, but the rules weren’t followed and all is not quite as it seems.
It’s hard to read all of the above without automatically thinking of Pet Sematary (We reviewed the original for day 1 of our K-O-Ween feature and the 2019 remake way back when). The tale of the Monkey’s Paw has been around for a long time and has been adapted in many formats. The most noteworthy, as far as modern pop culture horror goes, is Pet Sematary. Stephen King’s cautionary tale of getting what you wish for gone wrong is well known. A child is killed, a father buries the child in Pet Sematary, the child comes back changed and chaos ensues. Wake Wood, for all intents and purposes, is a retelling of that very same story.
Sure, some of the things here and there are different but the movie feels very similar. The filmmakers attempted to mix things up a little. This is, however, done by using themes from other similar movies. For example, there is a slight nod to movies such as The Wicker Man via the use of pagan style ritual and a rural community.
Some of the themes do vary slightly from Pet Sematary. The actual resurrection of the person is slightly different. Also, in this case, there isn’t a guarantee that the person will come back changed. There is a limit to how long the person comes back for but, provided the rules are followed, the person should be relatively normal.
This begs the question of whether Wake Wood deserves some criticism for taking so openly from such a well loved movie? I certainly think it has to be pointed out at the very least. I don’t think, however, that because a movie is well loved it should have a monopoly on a concept. The tale of the monkey’s paw is an old one and the notion that you should be careful what you wish for is likely even older. I enjoy seeing a different person’s take on a subject. As long as the movie doesn’t border on plagiarism, I think we are okay.
I am a big fan of the “be careful what you wish for” plot line. I think it can lead to some really interesting events and allows for a character to be presented as one thing and then entirely changed. Although it has been done before, Wake Wood does a nice job with this story. I thought the ritual was a good touch and the concept that this has been going on in Wake Wood for years worked well. Everyone gets a turn, so to speak, so the villager’s willingness to participate made sense.
The power at play here is bound to the area of the town and the resurrected person can’t leave or they will die again. That was a really good way of explaining how nobody has escaped with a resurrected loved one. The three day rule also worked really well as there was no expectation that this was permanent. It also offers an opportunity for closure at the end of the movie. Everyone involved follows the rules so that they can see their loved ones again, albeit temporarily. What didn’t make as much sense was how many people have died in Wake Wood recently. That place is apparently dangerous.
The pacing is decent and you are never really left bored. The initial events of the movie are over with within minutes and we are on to the meat of the story. Once things escalate, they do so rapidly and the results are fairly satisfying. Wake Wood is an easy watch. I would almost go as far as to call it popcorn horror. I certainly think it fits the bill for a quick horror movie to throw on that doesn’t require too much thought.
It’s worth pointing out, as well, that the practical effects are fantastic. The ritual itself is pretty gruesome and the rebirth of the resurrected person is suitably nasty. The site of a child emerging naked and covered in blood and guts is a daring, slightly haunting, visual that will likely stay with you after watching. It’s worth mentioning that these scenes were, thankfully, tactfully shot. Always important when filming this type of scene involving a young person.
Wake Wood, as a movie, can be something of a mixed bag. It is placed in an idyllic setting but, despite this, the camera work is pretty substandard. Ireland is an absolutely stunning country that reminds me a lot of where I live in Wales. If you can’t create gorgeous shots with the incredible Irish scenery you are probably doing something wrong. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the shots seemed to feature the cinematographer desperately attempting to do something creative. There are lots of quick cuts between characters, bland camera angles, and everything just feels a bit boring.
The lighting in some indoor scenes was fairly bad as well. It was almost as if the lights weren’t defused. Shadows were being cast in a way that made the direction of the lights very obvious. There were also some quick zoom ins on character faces during shocking moments. These reminded me of old hammer horror movies and we really don’t need to go back to that.
There are, as is common with many horror movies, a few plot holes here and there. I would actually refer to them more as just illogical actions. The family get three days together yet they seem to waste quite a lot of it. For some of that time they are not even with their daughter. It just doesn’t make much sense.
The final 10 minutes might not be particularly satisfying to some viewers. I wouldn’t say it is an inconclusive ending but there is a wink and a nod to the viewer at the end. The movie spends a long time building up to something that isn’t going to be entirely satisfying to all viewers as well. It sort of blows its load a little prematurely and maybe doesn’t go as far as you might expect or want it to. Others will find the ending completely fine. There is, also, another fairly major plot hole in the last scene that I can’t go into because of spoilers. When you think about it, however, it makes no sense.
Acting is generally fine. Aiden Gillan, as Patrick, was okay but seemed a little checked out in parts. I know he is an extremely good actor but I felt his performance here was a little lacking. He seemed to have a half smirk on his face through most of the movie. My partner kept mentioning how sinister he seemed. I thought he seemed a bit bored with it all to be honest. Just cashing a pay check, perhaps?
Eva Birthistle is absolutely fine. She is, however, one of those actors with a tendency to leave their mouths gaping open to illustrate every type of emotion. Weird thing but I couldn’t help but notice it. Timothy Spall is great as he usually is. The mostly Irish cast of side characters all do their part and add to the believability of the small rural community .
I really feel that Alice should have been cast as an older girl. I was reminded of a child playing the villain in a schoolyard game with her friends. It would be difficult for a very young girl to play at being evil or sinister. Without strict direction in each scene the results are always going to be a little disappointing. I think making the kid a teenager would have helped. It would have allowed for an older actor and added some believability to some of the events of the story.
Wake Wood, while not a perfect movie, is an enjoyable horror that plays on the theme of being careful what you wish for. Set in an idyllic location, Wake Wood's story and pagan style rituals are both compelling and easy to enjoy. Working as something of a combination of The Wicker Man and Pet Sematary, Wake Wood features a familiar tale, decent acting, and excellent practical effects.
Sometimes a bit uneven. Cinematography is bland and fairly uninteresting, scares are infrequent and the ending may leave some viewers wanting more. There is a fair amount of cheesy, old fashioned, editing and the movie already feels a bit older than it actually is. Still, Wake Wood is an enjoyable horror with a decent runtime and an interesting enough plot to keep most people engaged.