Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sometimes They Come Back...Wrong

I imagine few tragedies in life can ever come close to losing one’s child. It’s devastation on the most primal level of humanity, and a concept that has, not surprisingly, yielded some of cinema’s most touching, tragic, and haunting films to date.
The premise of Wake Wood, one of the newly restored Hammer Studios' releases, seems poised for inevitable sadness. Stop me if I’m wrong.
Quick Plot: Grieving parents Patrick (The Wire and Blackout’s Aiden Gillen) and Louise (The Children’s Eva Birthistle) move to the quaint rural town of Wake Wood after the their daughter Alice is mauled by a German Shepherd. When a citizen is accidentally killed by a lamb (go with it), town mayor Arthur (a refreshingly understated Timothy Spall) offers the couple something very special, a gift only Wake Wood can give.

There’s magic in the town see, dark, scary, but incredibly cathartic magic open to a select few. Arthur can resurrect Alice for a period of three days, after which she’ll again be gone forever and Patrick and Louise must then remain in town for the rest of their lives. This being a horror film, we know that a) Patrick and Louise will take the offer and b) something...won’t...turn...out...right.

At this point, you’re probably having intense flashbacks to Fred Gwynne’s ankle slicing in Pet Sematary. Wake Wood is indeed in that canon of sad parent horror, and has a similar feel. Once Alice is back, the film toys with sweet happiness before slowwwwwwwwly revealing something amiss. 

I’m delving into mild spoiler territory here. While I won’t give away the ending, I do want to discuss a very specific turn Wake Wood takes at the halfway point. If you plan on seeing the film--and I do recommend a rental--then you may want to exit at this point. I won’t be hurt.
Once we learn that Alice didn’t come back as planned, Wake Wood becomes, more ore less, another darned kids horror flick. Now as anyone familiar with my adoration for Bloody Birthday and Who Can Kill a Child? knows, I do enjoy that subgenre with the same enthusiasm I generally have for nachos or mint chocolate chip ice cream. With that in mind, shouldn’t the sight of a yellow slicker wearing seven year old punching people through the stomach have made me squeal in joy?

Well sure, if that’s all I thought the film needed. But Wake Wood sets itself up as something so much deeper. When you have a whole town chasing a little girl with torches, it’s something of a disappointment.

High Points
The opening five or so minutes do an excellent job of establishing Louise and Patrick's tragedy and subsequent move with the perfect level of show and tell

I’m not normally prone to jump scares, but there were at least two such moments in Wake Wood that did indeed make me gasp, certainly a sign of effectively developed tension
Low Points
The idea of an entire town having experienced these kinds of resurrections is quite haunting, and when we get those glimpses, incredibly powerful. Though Wake Wood is essentially the story of Patrick and Louise, it feels like there could have been a little more exploring of how such an ability would affect--both positively and negatively--a whole community

The final beat of Wake Wood has a menacingly mean black humor ring. I actually found it horrid. The film has brought us to a sad, but finished place, one where Louise is happy in the afterlife with Alice as she waits for a new child to be born in death. For our last shot to be a threatening layout of C-section items and a straight-at-the-camera wink from Patrick feels shocking for the sake of shocking and ultimately, a punch in the pregnant belly of characters we’ve come to truly care for.

Lessons Learned
Always dress your child in bright colors, particularly if you’re going to be chasing her around in the dark woods for the bulk of your story and a shimmery yellow raincoat improves visibility tenfold

Stray Observation
In the three things I’ve thus far see actor Aiden Gillen in, the man always seems to get explicit sex scenes. Just pointing that out.

Wake Wood is a chilling film, one with a fantastically sad premise and some extreme tension. Personally, I was let down because it just feels as though the material was denser than what it produced, but it still manages to be a worthy rental. The DVD includes a batch of deleted scenes and nothing else, a disappointment as this film screams for more discussion from its creators. 

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