Saturday, 1 October 2011

Wake Wood

Year: 2009
Director: David Keating
Screenplay: David Keating and Brendan McCarthy, from a story by Brendan McCarthy
Starring: Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly, Peggy O'Shea
Running Time: 90 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural

This movie has the distinction of being the first home-grown feature film from legendary horror studio Hammer in thirty years since they, as in most of their best known films, rose from the grave.
Set in Ireland, the story revolves around grieving couple, Patrick (Gillen) and Louise (Birthistle), who move to the small town of Wakewood to get over the tragic death of their young daughter Alice (Connolly), who was killed by a dog. While Patrick works as the local vet and Louise gets a job in the village pharmacy, they learn about a pagan ritual performed in the village that could bring Alice back from the dead. However, if they agree to the ritual none of them will ever be able to leave the village, and Alice will only be resurrected for three days. You don't need me to tell you that it all goes badly and gruesomely wrong.

This is often a genuinely disturbing and eerie horror movie. The basic theme is disturbing enough, but the film also creates a powerful sense of disquiet through the sombre and sedate pace. It also features many evocative and beautifully shot images of the Irish countryside which really put the movie into the sub-genre that Mark Gatiss referred to as "folk horror", in which the horror arises from the British (or, in this case, Irish) countryside and the old traditions of the inhabitants. The movie deals with some very heavy themes of love, loss and death.

However the film doesn't neglect the gore fans and pretty much ladels on the blood and guts, particularly in the final half where it moves from a dark exploration of love and grief into full-blown supernatural gross-out horror. It also suffers from the irritating but seemingly inevitable horror movie habit of referencing other movies (in particular Pet Sematary (1989), The Wicker Man (1973) and Don't Look Now (1973)).

The film features some great performances especially from Aidan Gillen (who is probably best known as sleazy politician Carcetti in The Wire (2002-2008)) and Eva Birthistle as the tormented couple. They get good support from the always reliable Timothy Spall as the creepy head of the village.

While some might be put off by the unrelentingly bleak tone and gore, this is a powerful and atmospheric horror movie which, while it doesn't really deliver any big scares, is creepy and atmospheric enough and lingers in the mind after the credits have rolled.

Although, to be honest, how many variations on the "creepy small town with a dark secret" theme can horror movie makers and writers come up with?

Eva Birthistle, Ella Connolly, Aidan Gillen in Wake Wood


  1. I like the idea of "folk horror" as a genre. Stories that are based on urban legends and folklore really freak me out, and there are a handful of movies like this that have truly scared me. The latest one was Atrocious but I really need to see Wake Wood now. I've heard nothing but good things about it. Great review!

  2. "Folk horror" is a pretty interesting genre. Probably the best known examples are "The Wicker Man", "Witchfinder General" and "The Blood on Satan's Claw" which were all released in the late 60s and early 70s.

    Thank you! :)