Pet Sematary? Never heard of it…
Movie monsters are indestructible. How many times have you watched the good guys defeat Freddy, Jason, Chuckie or Michael Myers only for them to come back to life in the final act? And how many times did Christopher Lee’s Dracula or Peter Cushing’s Victor Frankstein meet grisly ends only to rise from the grave in the next film, seeking blood and vengeance?
Well, like the best movie monsters, British horror institution (But who wants to live in an institution? Wocka wocka wocka…) Hammer Films is back from the dead. Last year they gave us their actually pretty damn good remake of Let The Right One In (Let Me In) which transposed the original’s chilly take on the vampire myth to a wintry New Mexico. This year, so far, they’ve given us the tedious Hilary Swank-starring, hermaphrodite-in-peril flick The Resident, a typically redundant exercise in American twaddle, and they’re currently shooting Susan Hill’s pant-wetter The Woman in Black with Daniel Radcliffe. Sandwiched between the two is their first homegrown (well Irish at least) scary movie.
Devastated by the brutal death of their young daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) at the jaws of a dangerous dog, vet Patrick (Aidan Gillen) and wife Louise (Eva Birthistle) move to the isolated country town of Wake Wood. For Patrick, it’s a chance for a fresh start; a new job, new town, the chance to save his dying marriage. Louise however, is still consumed by grief, a hollow shell of the woman she used to be. But as they settle into village life they start to notice there’s something weird about Wake Wood. The locals have strange traditions, practice pagan rituals, the reanimated recently dead are trying on sunglasses in Louise’s chemist shop and it isn’t long before village elder Arthur (Timothy Spall! Yup, you read that right, Timothy Spall) makes Louise and Patrick an offer that seems too good to be true: he can give Alice back to them, raise her from the dead, give them the chance to say goodbye. But, like all good horror stories, there are conditions: Alice has to have been dead less than a year, she can’t leave the boundaries of Wake Wood and after three days she has to go back into the ground. Naturally, they jump at the chance to have their daughter back but when her three days are up Alice isn’t keen on dying again…
Yet another variation on W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, Wake Wood is entirely predictable (it almost exactly replicates every beat of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary) but enjoyable fun. It’s an oft-told tale but in Wake Wood it’s told extremely well. The bleak, rural setting gives the story a real sense of place, creating a cloying atmosphere of building dread and there are obvious nods to The Wicker Man in the films pagan scenes (no nudie dancing) though some of that film’s black humour would have been welcome. Keating’s direction is tight and assured and the performances are uniformly good though Timothy Spall’s Oirish accent is right up there with the worst ever committed to celluloid (think Sean Connery in Darby O’Gill and the Little People or, gasp, the horror of Tommy Lee Jones in Blown Away), he’s obviously having great fun as the benevolent pagan elder, his performance staying just the right side of camp. Ella Connolly is creepily effective as the film’s creepy kid, metrosexual Aidan Gillen, while never quite exorcising the ghost of Stuart in Queer as Folk is good in the slightly thankless role of Patrick and Eva Birthistle’s Louise is a subtle portrait of a woman consumed by grief and longing.
Gruesome and low-key, Wake Wood is a refreshingly enjoyable little chiller with a killer final twist.
Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly
David Keating, Brendan McCarthy