Wake Wood
dir David Keating
scr David Keating, Brendan McCarthy
prd Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell
with Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly, Amelia Crowley, Ruth McCabe, Brian Gleeson, Dan Gordon
release UK 25.Mar.11
10/Ireland Hammer 1h29
Wake Wood
Breaking the rules: Gillen and Birthistle

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R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Wake Wood With deliberate echoes of classic Hammer horror, this moody and inventive thriller gets under our skin with its deeply personal plot, which pays as much attention to horror as emotion. And if the low budget shows, the unsettling premise more than makes up for it.

After the tragic death of their daughter Alice (Connolly) in England, veterinarian Patrick (Gillen) and chemist Louise (Birthistle) relocate to the tiny Irish village of Wake Wood. While settling into rural life they stumble across a creepy local ritual that might reunite them with their daughter for three days. They talk to the village elder (Spall) and agree to the rules, but they have a secret that could be their undoing. Then when they get Alice back, they decide to keep her. Although there's a heavy penalty for breaking the rules.

The filmmakers cleverly play on familiar mythologies and movie imagery as they quietly freak us out from start to finish. Even the tiniest details glimpsed at the edge of the screen are key elements in the overall atmosphere, and we quickly begin to feel the isolation and claustrophobia of this small village, whose border is marked by towering wind turbines that whoosh menacingly as they remind the characters not to cross the boundary.

Meanwhile, Gillen and Birthistle give beautifully offhanded performances that feel utterly real, adding a heart-wrenching layer to the story. We identify with them as we follow their search for a way out of this bizarre situation, and then we're horrified as things begin to twist and turn in very nasty directions. Spall is also terrifically restrained as the devilish patriarch, and Crowley and McCabe add texture as locals who have experience with this kind of thing.

The only aspect that lets the film down is its obvious low budget, which leaves some of the violent action moments feeling undercooked. Although much of this may actually be due to some rather ropey editing. But there are plenty of scenes that convey a real sense of yucky grisliness, and Chris Maris' cinematography beautifully captures the lush dampness of the locations. But in the end, the originality of the story and the conviction of the cast overcome all of this to really grab hold of us.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, grisliness 9.Dec.10

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall