Monday, July 11, 2011

New Release Review - Wake Wood



After the sudden and violent death of their 9-year-old daughter Alice, Patrick and Louise relocate to the remote town of Wake Wood to start their lives anew. But they quickly discover that beneath its idyllic country facade the town holds a dark and mystifying secret - a centuries-old pagan ritual that brings the dead back to life for three days. Desperate to say the goodbye they never had the chance to, Patrick and Louise agree to resurrect Alice. But their daughter is different now, and with time quickly running out, the couple will have to decide if their love for her truly transcends the boundaries of life and death.

Around this time in 2007, it was announced that the defunct legendary British production company HAMMER was under new ownership and that the company would soon begin churning out new films, for the first time since 1979. Aside from a multi-part serial that aired on MySpace back in 2008, which was technically the first export of the new ownership, the revitalized brand has thus far put out three films; the theatrically released remake of Let The Right One In, the straight to DVD The Resident and now, Wake Wood (which is actually the first film the new Hammer made even though it's the most recently released). Having seen both Let Me In and The Resident before I sat down to watch Wake Wood tonight, the company was 1 for 1 in my book, as I thought Let Me In was a very well done remake while The Resident was quite lackluster (aside from some great shots of Hilary Swank's amazing body). So where do we stand now?

Happy to report that Hammer is now 2 for 1 in the Freddy In Space scorebook, launching this bearded horror fan off the fence and onto the favorable side of the lawn. Being that it's the first solid original film released under the new label, I think the company has now really put themselves back on the map in a major way as a force to be reckoned with within the horror genre. They've certaintly gotten my attention with this one.

It's not often that a smart and genuinely good original horror film like Wake Wood comes along. The genre these days is pretty much comprised entirely of sequels, remakes and homages/ripoffs to films of the past and it's so refreshing to see one that's a bold new vision, even if it clearly does have some elements of horror flicks that inspired it. Though it can be easily dismissed as a modern day Pet Sematary (in fact, one could argue there's really no need to remake that one after this), with a little Wicker Man, a little Don't Look Now and a tad bit of Alice, Sweet Alice (if that movie didn't already ensure you'll never buy your daughter a yellow raincoat ...) thrown in for good measure, Wake Wood has as much originality as it does similarity to past films. So please, despite the fact that nearly every review you will read will probably compare it to one if not all of those afformentioned films (it's hard not to), do not think this is some lame derivative ripoff that's devoid of any originality or that it's 'just another creepy little girl flick'. It's so much more than any of that. It's also so much more than 'just another zombie flick', if it can even be referred to as one.

In many ways, Wake Wood feels like a film from a past era of horror filmmaking, and it certaintly has more of the old school Hammer vibe than any of the new Hammer releases have had thus far. It truly feels like a product of the company many horror fans have come to know and love and that's really cool to see, decades after the Hammer was thought to be dead and buried. Like most of the better horror films in the history of the genre, the story and characters are the focus rather than the elements of horror, at least for the majority of the film, which makes those latter elements incredibly effective once they enter the proceedings. As most crappy horror movies cannot seem to grasp, we have no reason to care about anything that's going on if we don't first care about the characters and have empathy for their dilemma. Wake Wood is one of those rare horror movies that's a really good film which then introduces its elements of horror, rather than relying on them from the start. In fact, I got the sense that even without any dead creepy girl or horror film elements at all, the movie still would've been a great drama film about love, loss, the grief of a parent and the unwillingness to let go of loved ones ... which it is, just with a lot of arterial spray, animal slaughter and creepy and disturbing imagery.

It's interesting because having just read the book Shock Value, I can't help but feel that this film is more akin to the genre flicks of the 70's than it is the horror films made today. Not only in the sense that atmosphere, solid storytelling and good acting dominate the proceedings, but also in the execution of the 'less you know, the better' idea that author Jason Zinoman repeatedly points out in the book as being one of the most effective devices the horror filmmakers of the 70's utilized. We never quite find out how the town of Wake Wood is able to raise the dead, or how exactly the whole process works, which only adds to the creepiness and effectiveness of the film. Sometimes the mystery is better than the explanation and i'm so glad that much of this film is shrouded in that mystery.

As unsettling as it is tragic, as creepy as it is haunting, and as brutally violent as it is beautiful, Wake Wood is for my money one of the best horror films released this year, certaintly the best film the new generation of Hammer has made to date. This is the kind of smart horror we all spend so much of our time and money trying to seek out. Don't miss it. For the first time I feel like Hammer truly is back!


Lord of Filth said...

Nice. Am looking forward to this. Good to hear that Hammer are back on track after the disappointing The Resident.

The Frog Queen said...

Thanks for the review - felt the same way about The Resident, so I have been sitting on my copy of this film not wanting to be disappointed again.

Looks like I will have to break open the shrink wrap and give it a watch this between prop building.

As always, thanks for sharing.