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Review: Wake Wood (2011)

Directed by: David Keating | 90 minutes | , , | Actors: , , Timothy Spall, , , , Amelia Crowley, Dan Gordon, Tommy McArdle, John McArdle, Aoife Meagher, Siobhán O’Brien, Alice McCrea, , , ,

Horror with pretensions? Yes, that’s possible. Director David Keating undoubtedly has a lot of intentions for “Wake Wood”, but his arty farty presentation often misses the point. What remains is a fairly entertaining horror that has to do with an ambitious filmmaker and a scanty budget.

“Wake Wood” tells the story of Patrick (Aiden Gillen) and his wife Louise (Eva Birthistle). The couple has to cope with a horrific trauma. Their daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) was bitten to death by a vicious dog. The pharmacy assistant and the vet hope to find peace in the sleeping village of Wake Wood. When Louise witnesses a strange ritual, she is approached a little later by the enigmatic Arthur (Timothy Spall). The village elder makes a proposal to the couple: if they decide to live in the village for the rest of their lives and help the residents, he brings their deceased daughter back to life. There are hooks and eyes to this deal, because Alice can only be raised from the dead for three days. The couple decides to accept the offer, but they withhold essential information. With all its consequences…

Keating drew inspiration from old horror classics like “Pet Cematary”, “Don’t Look Back”, “The Omen” and “The Wicker Man”. Films in which people are torn from their familiar surroundings and suddenly have to trust their instincts. These films are also about dealing with deaths. What would you do if you could bring a loved one back to life?

“Wake Wood”, like the aforementioned films, relies on atmosphere and not so much on bloody massacres. So it’s more about tension than pointless bloodshed. At times the filmmaker manages to evoke an ominous feeling, but just as often not. Keating regularly uses hallucinatory images (a confusedly edited lovemaking or fragments of a ritual) that come across as quite strange, because they are rather unnaturally incorporated into the story. Afterwards you understand what Keating wanted to achieve with that arty farty approach, but when you are in the middle of the story, this artificial approach only arouses irritation.

Fortunately, the cast pays a lot. Gillen and Birthistle are credible as damaged parents. Their playing is understated and realistic. However, Spall is most interesting as the mysterious village elder. It is great that he manages to layer his character in such a way, if you consider that the character seems to have no background and is not explored in depth. The script is very vague about this Arthur. Still, Spall manages to pique your interest. Then you are doing well. He radiates authority, tranquility and threat. You don’t have to expect many (of the) special effects. Should someone die, these deaths don’t look very convincing. Camera movements and lots of close-ups of blood: a cheap solution to suggest a gruesome death. The film’s weakest link is debutante Connolly. The girl does not seem threatening and you can see that she is acting. Her character is not convincing. This is partly due to the cute and innocent appearance of the girl. Connolly is not a (ruined) child actor, but a girl who likes to play in a movie because she really likes acting. It cannot be blamed on her that she is not convincing. In addition, shooting a horror movie with a child is very difficult. You have to protect a child from gruesome images, while they do play a large part in it. A split position.

The story of “Wake Wood” isn’t bad, but too often you get a “from which film did the director steal that moment”. Keating draws inspiration from many films. Seasoned genre fans recognize any “reference” or “ode” to / from classic horror classics. “Wake Wood” looks like a compilation of ideas rather than a standalone movie. It never gets really disturbing, but sometimes the film does seem very easy going. As if there was no more inspiration. This is a nice horror movie that doesn’t convince on every front. The acting is solid, the atmosphere at times ominous and some scenes are nice and bloody. The minimalist soundtrack is also nice. Unfortunately there is an underperforming child actor, a strange arty farty montage and a not very original story.

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