WAKE WOOD: Hammering Home the Gore

Directed by David Keating. Starring Timothy Spall, Aiden Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Ruth McCabe. 90 mins.
Rating: Three/five
In cinemas March 25

Once the dominant production company for horror films, Hammer Film Productions has effectively been in hibernation for thirty years. But their first feature film produced since their hiatus proves that they can still reduce even hardened horror fans to cringing behind their hands.

Submerging you in gore right from the start, Wake Wood opens with a vicious and bloody sequence showing nine year old Alice being ravaged by a crazed dog. One year on, her parents Patrick (Aiden Gillen) and Louise (Eva Birthistle) have relocated to the remote town of Wake Wood, but as they go through the motions of their new life, it’s clear that they never recovered from the untimely death of their beloved daughter. So when they learn of a pagan ritual that will resurrect her for three days, their longing and desperation overcomes their fear.

Director David Keating takes full advantage of the inherent creepiness of remote Irish towns, using the bleak woods, black country roads and unnervingly odd – and yet completely believable – local characters to brilliant effect. The mystic resurrection ritual itself is also convincingly earthy, as town elder Timothy Spall leads the villagers in an unsettling combination of Irish chanting and the nastily graphic mutilation of a corpse. And though the themes and setting mean that Wake Wood will inevitably draw comparisons to classics like The Wicker Man and Pet Cemetery, Keating doesn’t settle for creating a sense of subtle unrest. Frequent close shots of operations on animals and unexpectedly grisly deaths elevate the film from an atmospheric creep-fest into a full-blown blood bath.

It’s a testament to the eerie atmosphere that the film remains affecting, as it does lose focus in its final act. As Alice begins to change, Gillen and Birthistle are reduced to running around after her and the tension begins to sag. But some nice plot twists, grimy visuals and and solid performances, particularly from the ever-unctuous Spall mean that Wake Wood resonates with you for days after – whether you want it to or not.
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