Wake Wood, the new horror film from the long-defunct Hammer Studios, is just begging for a “morning wood” joke. But I’m not going to give it the satisfaction. No, sir, not me. Not a one. Instead, I’ll spend my time critiquing this above average but largely unremarkable horror film which combines the classic ‘Monkey’s Paw’ story arc with just a twinge of The Wicker Man. A twinge is not enough, unfortunately.
The Wire’s Aiden Gillen and Breakfast on Pluto’s Eva Birthistle star as Patrick and Louise, a married couple who – because they are in a horror movie – are mourning the death of their only daughter. Unable to rebuild their family anew after complications with the pregnancy, they pull up stakes and retreat to the tiny town of Wake Wood, which harbors a creepy secret: within the confines of the town, the dead can be revived within a year of their demise via a dark ritual. It only lasts a few days, but the tortured couple jumps at the chance to see their beloved Alice (Ella Connelly) again. Everything goes really well and everyone lives (and dies) happily ever after. Except they don’t. They raised the dead. When has that ever ended well?
What follows is a standard, by-the-numbers creepy kid movie as Alice comes back wrong and turns on the townsfolk with murderous aplomb. Wake Wood has a small body count and only a few spooky scares to its credit, although the final scene is eerie enough to compensate for at least some of the mediocrity. At best the film boasts some great performances by the underused Aiden Gillen, in his biggest role since the surprisingly-good John Cena actioner 12 Rounds. He deserves better work than this, although I have no doubt that worse parts were available. Both Gillen and Birthistle are believably tortured protagonists but beyond that neither character is interesting enough to make much of an impression. You’ll either sympathize with their plight – admittedly easy to do – or you’ll tune out quickly, so familiar is this genre.
Timothy Spall, on the other hand, makes the most of his smallish role as a kind-hearted warlock who actually wants to help this family in need. Spall is an exceptional actor but for the most part has to represent the community of Wakewood all by himself, which is a shame because that community is by far the most interesting thing about the movie and also the most unexamined. Wake Wood is a town in which the afterlife is basically their plaything, and the knowledge that there is actually more to the universe than our earthly circle of experience would surely change everyone there. How does this affect their daily lives? Do they have any reservations about raising the dead for the sake of easing the living’s loneliness when they know for a fact that they will be reunited in the great beyond? What is their religious life like? Are they Christians who dabble in black magic or a group of dark cultists, and do these distinctions affect their day-to-day lives? These questions are never answered, yet they are the only ones worth asking in an otherwise barely above-par horror flick.
Wake Wood rises on Blu-Ray with a transfer that’s a little too digital and modern to ever quite match the film’s old-fashioned campfire story mentality, but it looks decent enough, and the surround sound really kicks in during the film’s occasional crescendo moments. Special features are sparse, with a bevy of trailers from Dark Sky competing for ample disc space along with a montage of deleted scenes. Those scenes are in no particular order, largely unfinished, and do little to elaborate upon the final product. The highlight, of sorts, is an extended version of the reanimation ritual that manages to be longer and cut out the exposition that actually made sense, and focuses a little more on the magical elements that Wake Wood otherwise remains annoyingly disinterested in.
I suppose I’m complaining that Wake Wood isn’t the movie I wanted to see, which focuses more on the townsfolk and less on the overly familiar tale of a family in morning making a ill-advised deal with the devil. It’s that second take we get, and it’s all well and good but despite a game cast never does anything memorable enough to make a real impression. Wake Wood doesn’t give me morning wood, or indeed any other kind. I realize that I promised not to make that reference but in all fairness, Wake Wood promised to be an eerie film in the great Hammer tradition. I guess pobody’s nerfect.
Crave Online Rating (Film): 6/10
Crave Online Rating (Blu-Ray): 5/10