Wake Wood (2011)

I really don't enjoy hating new, low budget, British horror films. I'd love to champion Wake Wood and tell you how brilliant it is. But I can't, because it's awful - in an oh-God-I'd-rather-peel-my-face-off-than-keep-watching-this kind of a way.

The Wake Wood of the title is actually Wakewood, a small town in Ireland that's got some serious idiosyncracies. Bereaved parents Patrick and Louise move in after their young daughter is tragically killed by a dog, and are quickly offered the traditional monkey's paw: by using the remains of a recently deceased townsperson, they can conjure just enough life force to bring Alice back to life for three days.

This is, apparently, something all the townsfolk do whenever someone dies, and despite the obvious Pet Sematary parallel, it's usually totally okay. There are rules, though: the person to be resurrected must have been dead for less than a year, and during their three days they mustn't cross the town's boundaries. After their three days are up, too, Patrick and Louise will be bound to the town, and must never move away. You'd think warning bells would be ringing already, but the promise of seeing their daughter again is too much, and the couple go ahead with the ritual, using the corpse of a farmer who was recently crushed to death by a cow.

Something's off about Wake Wood from the beginning. Partly it's the ugly way it's filmed; it looks like it's been filmed on an iPhone and then passed through half a dozen filters in an attempt to make it look cinematic. Partly it's the awkward dialogue, and the way characters seem to react as if they can't quite hear each other. Mostly, though, it's the strange way it feels like this wasn't written as a movie. The death-by-cow is a prime example - it looks faintly ridiculous seeing a man squished between a cow's backside and a metal gate, but it feels like it was an idea that might have worked in print. There's a discrepancy between the way the film's been shot and acted - trying to wring every last drop of pathos out of Alice's admittedly tragic death and her parents' subsequent grief, for example - and the inherent campiness of the script. Some of the characters' stranger decisions would make more sense if the world they inhabited was less familiar-looking; if they were in a slightly more stylised, gothic universe, it might be easier to accept that, yeah, there's this whole community who can resurrect their dead people for three days at a go, and they've been doing it for generations, and it's all cool. As it is, it's tough to swallow that any rational adult could buy into this, and the film doesn't seek to address any of the issues built into a system like that before everything goes horribly wrong.

Which of course it does, because Patrick and Louise break both of the fundamental rules of this game: not only do they take Alice outside of the town's limits, but she had been dead for over a year in the first place, which means she came back wrong. Yup, we're back in creepy little girl territory: Alice starts by murdering animals and quickly moves on to killing people and generally being a terror. Why? God knows. Somehow, in the three or four extra weeks she'd been dead, something terrible happened. (It's difficult to know the exact chronology, because the beginning of the film is intentionally muddled to prevent you from figuring out that Alice had been dead too long; actually, what this muddle does it make it really difficult to understand quite what's going on for a while, because although Patrick and Louise are supposed to be outsiders in Wakewood, just learning about its weird traditions, we've seen them both working in jobs that are pretty well embedded in the community.)

There's a logical and emotional leap that the film makes that leaves its audience behind; when Alice comes back, her parents seem to revert to their normal, happy, pre-dead-child state, ignoring the fact that they've only really got three days with her. I mean, if your child had been killed by a stray animal while you weren't around, and then you got to spend just three more days with her alive, would you really want to go playing hide and seek in the woods? There's no sense of urgency to their interactions with her; they're desperate to have her back and then, when she is back, seem to forget what's going on, not finding it in the least bit strange that she's come back with someone else's eye colour or that she frequently disappears only to come back with bloodstained hands.

The film ends with one of the most stupid - and yet painfully obvious - scenes ever committed to celluloid (or digital video; whatever). By this point, though, it almost doesn't matter. Wake Wood is terrible through and through. It wants to be a cross between The Wicker Man and Don't Look Now, but can't manage it, resorting instead to heavy-handed references to both. Where those films had emotional resonance - or, at least, gorgeous photography - Wake Wood has a daft scene with a cow and a magic town of rural stereotypes. If the new Hammer Films can't do better than this, they might as well give up.

1 comment:

Garbage movie said...

Wake Wood is a lousy movie that promotes casual cruelty towards animals. All those involved should be ashamed of themselves.