Something’s not quite right in the Irish village of Wake Wood. Sure, the locals are generally friendly as hell, but still…something’s going on here, man. Something not right. Something bizarre. As one townie puts it, “What goes on in Wake Wood is not for everyone.”
Not for everyone, indeed.
Wake Wood is another recent release from the resurging Hammer Film Productions––a classy, gothic horror/drama that’s bears the heady aroma of the studio’s rich legacy. Co-writer/director David Keating has reason to be proud of what he’s crafted here––a thoughtful, moody cross between The Wicker Man and Pet Semetary that transcends the horror genre.
After their daughter Alice is killed in a vicious dog attack, the Daley’s (um…no relation) relocate to Wake Wood to pull their dismal lives back together. Wife Louise takes a job at the local pharmacy while husband Patrick (Aiden Gillen, who HBO-philes will recognize as Mayor Carcetti from The Wire) works at the town’s veterinary practice.
After Louise gets snagged spying on a local pagan ritual, the couple is approached with an intriguing proposition. Patrick’s boss, Arthur (Timothy Spall), asks the Daley’s if they would be interested in having their dead daughter back for three whole days…”So you can see her, hold her again, and say goodbye properly,” he says. Of course the pagan “Ritual of Return” comes with conditions: they can’t leave the village with their daughter, and the couple must settle forever in Wake Wood. The pagans have resurrected many dead loved ones in the past, and they’re happy to perform the ritual for their newest residents. But when complications ensue, Arthur and the pagans want to cut the 3-day reunion short. “Put Alice back in the ground where she belongs,” they say, “Do it now.” And what begins as a dramatic observance of the grieving process takes its first few bloody steps into horror territory.
Wake Wood’s plot is fairly simple and straightforward, but the script has a way of really fleshing out the macabre details. Once the Daley’s have agreed to the ritual, Arthur asks them a series of pointed questions about their dead daughter as he adjusts a weird pagan abacus:
“Was her skin moist or dry?“
“Does she prefer mornings or evenings?“
“Would she have liked cats, cows, or horses?”
It’s an eerie pre-ritual interview––an exchange that builds tension and provokes a morbid audience curiosity––and that’s essentially how Wake Wood rolls. It begins as a drama with ominous overtones, and rather than simply rushing to its impending action-horror climax, director Keating is happy to explore all the moments of strangeness in the background of his creepy pagan narrative. Essentially, Wake Wood is a mood piece, flaunting a dank foreboding that eventually gives way to genuine menace. Whatever it lacks in true scares, it makes up for with atmosphere and craftsmanship.