Wake Wood (2011)

JUNE 28, 2011


I hope I’m not spoiling anything by tagging Wake Wood as a killer kid movie, but I mean, the lifts from Pet Sematary are so blatant at times it might as well just be a remake, so I don’t think anyone with even passing familiarity to that story will be surprised when our resurrected little girl starts taking out a few townsfolk toward the end of the second act. Oddly, it’s actually kind of a shame it goes down that route, as the movie was much better/more interesting without that stuff, but alas.

Even with its blunders its still the best of the new Hammer films, all the more impressive when you consider it’s been on the shelf for two years (it was shot in 2008!). Let Me In was technically a good movie, but it was a too-close copy of a film that was released only a year or so before, and the less said about The Resident, the better. But this one has a bit of that old Hammer feel, with an isolated European town populated with creepy folks, a gloomy atmosphere, etc. Only the largely terrible score and sub-par digital photography give a modern feel to this otherwise old-school morality tale.

Oh, and the digital blood. It’s kind of funny; the blood in a lot of the older films has that weird melted pink crayon look to it, and now it looks artificial in a completely different way. It’s not a particularly gory film (though gorier than I was expecting), so it’s not too damaging, but still, I think it’s time we give CGI blood splatter a rest until they can get it right. I watched the new Transformers movie today (a boring and incomprehensible waste of time for the most part), and it amazes me that they can have a giant robot laying waste to Chicago and it looks flawless, but they still can’t manage to get a little blood geyser looking right. And really, it’s not too hard to set up a squib or condom filled with Karo syrup, so for the life of me I cannot understand why so many filmmakers go down that road when it never looks good.

Anyway, the movie plays better as a sad drama than a horror flick, which is fine by me. The movie wastes no time in setting the grieving parent plot in motion, and that could have caused a problem if the actors weren’t up to the task, but Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle sell their grief fairly well even though we never got to see much of them in “happier times”. I also liked that they didn’t waste too much time explaining how the townsfolk came across this dead-raising ability, or what their little abacus thing was for, or any of that stuff that doesn’t really matter. The more you explain a somewhat ridiculous plot like this, the harder it will be to focus on the characters, so by keeping it simple they end up with a far more effective tale, with a tragedy at its core that actually works.

But as I mentioned, the killer kid stuff doesn’t really gel with the rest. Basically, their ritual works most of the time, but the person they bring back has to have been dead for less than a year. If it’s more, then they come back “wrong”, and that’s what happens here (Gillen lies about how long she has been dead). However it doesn’t quite work the same as in Pet, where the folks ALWAYS came back murderous, and right away to boot. So while the moral of that story was “When someone dies, they should stay that way”, the moral here is, I guess, “Don’t lie to creepy cult types about when your loved one died, because it screws up their success rate”. It’s actually scarier when the “rules” are broken, such as when they venture outside of the town border and the girl starts to bleed from all over (sort of like what happened to an uninvited Abby in Let Me In, actually), and I think the movie might have even been more effective if the focus was more on the “play by the rules” angle than her apparent soulless return.

This also would have given Timothy Spall a bit more to do. If this was a 70s film, his role would be played by Christopher Lee or someone like that (indeed, it feels a bit at times like Wicker Man, especially during the crazy “parade” scene early on), but they would also give him some juicy stuff to do in the 3rd act. Spall is sort of phased out as the movie goes along, never really becoming a full blown villain (or a surprise hero), which is a shame as I was hoping to see him get to cut loose a bit.

And I had initially suspected his performance was trimmed a bit in editing, but there’s nothing much of note to his character in the deleted scenes collection, which runs about 17 minutes but includes an extended version of the “resurrection” scene so there’s really less than 10 minutes of excised material. Most of it is worthless, and all presented without context (one bit is literally just a shot of Gillen tending to a horse at some point), rendering it a rather worthless way to spend 15 minutes, especially when neither David Keating or Brendan McCarthy (the director and screenwriter, respectively) appear to explain why it was cut in the first place. But that’s the only extra of note besides the trailer, in which you will learn that the film was cropped from 1.78:1 to 2.39:1 for the feature presentation, as the trailer shows more information at the top and bottom of the frame. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted it shown in the wider aspect ratio, but I did notice a few shots in the film that were noticeably cramped (plus a few others that seemed stretched, like when their car breaks down and they pull to the side of the road) so I dunno. This is why you include the filmmakers on your DVDs!

At any rate, it’s a sign that the new Hammer might actually work out after all, and I hope Woman In Black (another remake!) is another worthy addition to their legacy. Not sure why it was delayed for so long, but don’t let that fool you – Wake Wood is worth a look, and does the Hammer name proud.

What say you?


  1. I was at the world premiere of this movie at the New Beverly Cinema in Hollywood 2 weeks ago, and I have to admit that it was a good movie. I was a bit skeptical because it did look like a mash up of Pet Semetary and the Wicker Man, but this was a pleasant surprise. Great review on the flick Brian. You are consistently my favorite horror blogger out there.

  2. Agreed that digital blood never really looks good and I'd prefer real blood...

    However, it's not just a matter of setting up a condom full of blood, it's usually more involved with that. Then after you've done the shot and blood is all over the actor and the walls, if you want a second take, you have to clean everything up, put the actor in a new outfit and it's back to hair and makeup. So I;m sure that's why they do it, if you've ever dealt with blood on a movie set you can see what a pain in the ass it can be.

  3. I have dealt with it, and yes it is a pain. But it looks better, plain and simple. And if the folks making the movie really cared about the end product, they wouldn't rely on it so heavily. If you wouldn't skimp on a crane shot because it took too much time, or if you'd get multiple takes of an actor's performance to get what you want, why half-ass this element? And it's not low-budget movies either; I see it just as much in studio productions.

  4. Well, I agree in theory...but on a low budget movie where time DOES equal money, then you have to consider losing that hour of time. A crane can be set up while the actors are in makeup, but if you have to stop production while the set being shot on is cleaned and your actor is being fixed up, there goes precious time. I'm not excusing it, but looking better definitely isn't the number one concern always. And sometimes it really is just laziness.

    I liked the commentary on Drag Me To Hell, which was no a tiny budgeted movie but not exactly a monster budget for a big movie either...and Sam Raimi would talk about having six shots planned for one bit, but only having the time to do one, and so that's what he did. And he said it actually made him learn to be more economical, the Spiderman movies made him lazy on studio money.

    But I mean if Sam Raimi coming off of Spiderman had to trim his schedule for time and money, I'm sure the makers of Wake Wood did too.


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