April 2, 2011

Wake Wood (2011)

"The parents of a girl who was killed by a savage dog are granted the opportunity to spend three days with their deceased daughter."

There's no easy way of just launching into a review of "Wake Wood" without mentioning that the new version of Hammer Film Productions is behind it. Most of us have fond childhood memories of Hammer horror movies starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing accompanied by lots of beautiful girls dressed in period costumes with blood, boobs and fangs all over the place. There was a definite look and atmosphere to everything Hammer made even though they pretty much did little more than remake the Universal horror movies in colour. Of course there were some more original features along the way and they certainly spiced most things up with European erotica but, ultimately, more people remember Hammer's Dracula and Frankenstein remakes than anything else. In those days, nobody would even have thought to compare what Hammer were doing with how The Asylum work nowadays. But times have changed.

To say that "Wake Wood" is Hammer's version of Stephen King's "Pet Sematary" with a little bit of "The Wicker Man" thrown in would be not only be an understatement but might also mislead you to believe that they'd taken the best parts of both to make something new. All horror films are derivative of each other to some extent but when The Asylum do it everybody screams the words "rip off" from one side of the internet to the other. When Hammer do it, nobody seems to even notice. Well, I noticed.

Since Hammer's return they have already annoyed everybody with any discernment by unnecessarily remaking "Let the Right One In" as the horribly dumbed down "Let Me In", and reworking "Sliver" and "Psycho" into something completely boring with "The Resident". All those lovely Gothic dramas from Bray Studios which made Hammer great have been abandoned completely and there isn't even a glimmer of the "Hammer House of Horror" TV series' originality either. This new version of Hammer Film Productions seems to just be just using the name to compete with The Asylum and that doesn't bode well for the future.

But, anyway, what you all really want to know about is "Wake Wood" itself. Is it completely awful or worth a watch? Strangely, it's a bit of both. "Wake Wood" is pretty rough and badly put together but has some very talented people acting in it and it's set in Ireland. It's a very British Hammer film again and that should be enough to satisfy most people but only if Hammer films are all that they've ever watched.

If I tell you now that that the lead, played by Aidan Gillen, is a veterinary surgeon whose daughter gets killed at the beginning of the film, where do you think the story is going? If I then tell you that our hero and his beautiful blonde wife, Eva Birthistle, are so grief stricken that they are prepared to resort to some ancient folk magic to bring their child back to life, what classic late '80s film are you now reminded of? And if I just let you in on the fact that the daughter is going to come back "wrong"? Well, I think you get the idea. Should Stephen King consult his lawyers or has this much lack of originality now to be seen as an homage?

Some people could argue that because the whole village of Wake Wood are in on this weirdness that it has a "Wicker Man" quality to it. I disagree. Timothy Spall is no Christopher Lee. He will always be Barry from "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet" to me no matter how much his acting has improved. I just can't take Timothy Spall seriously as a slightly Irish accented gentleman farmer and, as a pagan priest to boot, even less so. If he'd played a giant leprechaun and danced a few jigs maybe I would have enjoyed his role a bit more. Hell, if "Wake Wood' had been a comedy spoof of "Pet Sematary" then I would have enjoyed the whole sad effort a lot more and I absolutely detest comedies.

The biggest thing wrong with "Wake Wood" apart from its homaging of other films, is that it all feels so roughly edited. You can almost get into it but then horribly fast scene changes and more two-dimensional characters turn up so you can't. There's even a sex scene which is necessary to the plot and which could have been very good but actually made me question what the hell I was watching for a number of reasons which you'll have to discover for yourself. The more things I mention and want to rip apart for their inconsistencies and ability to cause even bigger plot holes, the less you'll want to watch "Wake Wood" and that isn't my intention at all.

"Wake Wood" is not a horror film that I recommend to the seasoned horror fan. It has a few decent effects considering the obviously low-budget, it looks great in places and it would have made a good TV episode for Hammer if it had been done back in the early '80s. It's almost spooky enough to be entertaining but, I'm sad to say, "Wake Wood" is no scarier than a Hammer film from the '50s or '60s. For that reason alone, it really does fit into the Hammer way of doing things but, since most of us have moved on somewhat, a horror film this tame is, in a word, disappointing.

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