CAPSULE: This is a reworking of W. W. Jacobs's story "The Monkey's Paw" crossed with a bit of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." A young couple bereaved over the loss of their daughter a year earlier moves to an Irish village. Apparently the natives of the village have some sort of pagan rite that will allow them to bring the daughter back to life for three days only. One of the first of the new Hammer Films is a strong atmospheric story. There are scenes with a lot of blood, some real if not human. Those who hate blood should be warned. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
[This review is dedicated to the memory of Hammer Films lover and expert David Bara (1949-2014)].
This film is one of the first few made by the resurrected Hammer Film Productions. Why it was released without any reference in the titles that it is at least in part a Hammer Film I can only speculate.
It is Alice's birthday. Alice (played by Ella Connolly) is something like ten years old and doted on by her parents Louise and Patrick (Eva Birthistle and Aidan Gillen). Their happy world is destroyed in a moment when a savage neighbor dog attacks and kills Alice. The marriage starts to fall apart almost immediately. They move to Wake Wood, a rural Irish village, where Patrick becomes the veterinarian and Louise will run the local pharmacy. There seems to be something very strange and possibly pagan going on in the village. Secret rituals and ceremonies occur. Finally the village leader, to keep the two from separating and leaving the village, tells the couple that in Wake Wood there are rituals that can bring the dead back to life for three days. Louise could get her daughter back, albeit for just a short time.
W. W. Jacobs's story "The Monkey's Paw" updated the "Arabian Nights" idea that getting wishes does not lead to happiness. Jacobs told the story that the second of three wishes was for some dearly departed person or animal to return from the dead. This third wish is to undo the damage of the second wish. Films inspired by the story include PET SEMATARY, TALES FROM THE CRYPT (one segment), and DEATHDREAM. WAKE WOOD was written by producer Brendan McCarthy and director David Keating. Keating gets a feel that is nicely atmospheric and keeps the diction clear so that American cousins can understand what is being said. That is not always easy and realistic in a film set in Ireland.
The style of the film, photographed by Chris Maris, is subdued and stylish. It seems to be shot on real cattle farms and the film seems to use (or at least mostly use) a lot of close-up shots with real cattle. Using real cattle does not seem like it should make so much difference, but the film fully lives up to Hammer Films's reputation for gore and it is more realistic than any we have seen in the past. That is because the first gory scene is shooting what I judge to be a real cow giving birth by a real Caesarian. That sight is more grisly than any from a Christopher Lee Dracula film. Perhaps they can say that no animal was harmed in the making of this film, but some normal veterinary procedures are probably not thought to technically be harming the animal.
I did get a chuckle from what looked like a pagan data entry device. I wonder what kind to interfaces it supports.
This is a quality horror film, better and very different from a lot of Hammer Films's classic films. The end is a little pat and the story a little too predictable, but much of the film takes a tight hold on the viewer. I would give this film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
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What is most interesting in the script is the use of the Timothy Spall character. In classic Hammer-period films like PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE WICKER MAN, and THE GORGON the most respected member of the community is actually behind all of the evil that is being done. In this film Timothy Spall's Arthur is very much the village elder and at the same time the possessor of the supernatural secret--very Hammer-like. Arthur certainly seems sinister, but scene-by-scene he never does anything malevolent. He is really the victim of Patrick and Louise instead of vice versa and puts too much trust in them to cooperate.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1296899/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/wake-wood/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper