Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Wake Wood

My notes on the Hammer Film Wake Wood.

It’s unfair to tag David Keating’s Wake Wood as a reworking of Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary (filmed by Mary Louise Lambert in 1989), since King’s tale of grieving parents who magically resurrect their dead child and learn to regret this violation of the natural order was already a conscious variation on W.W. Jacobs’ much-reprinted (and adapted) short story ‘The Monkey’s Paw’.  In a review of the novel, Ramsey Campbell pointed out a crucial lapse that hurts King’s story – the resurectee is not really the lost child but a malign spirit in the kid’s body, which makes the last act a melodramatic chase rather than an exercise in familial anguish.  Though Wake Wood’s Alice has a demonic streak, Keating ‘corrects’ King in making the little girl as much herself as monster – even her most gruesome acts come from her own desires and urges, killing a dog because she was killed by one and lashing out against the unborn sibling she fears will replace her when she is back in the ground.


As a self-conscious genre exercise, following Let Me In in the canon of the back-from-the-grave Hammer Films (an odd parallel: both films feature scenes in which unnatural little girls cross an invisible barrier and begin to bleed alarmingly), the film has to take some short-cuts.  The central couple, well-played by Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle (still torn by a conflict with a possessed younger generation, as in The Children), enter into the sort of compact with a genial magician (a sly Timothy Spall) which anyone with a cursory knowledge of horror literature would be shy of.  As a set of ‘rules’ are established (about how long the subject can have been ‘under the ground’ and the limitations imposed on the resurrected child) which the perhaps-devilish elder can’t possibly expect the unwary fools to abide by and which, in due course, are all broken.


Conventional in outline (down to an ending which suggests – as in Pet Sematary – that the survivors haven’t learned from the ordeal), Wake Wood offers an unusual mythology for its temporary resurrections, involving a corpse, farm machinery, mud, totems, twig-and-string ‘clutches’ to bind the living dead and the expected chanting, with the child reborn in bloody slime out of a baked flesh-and-dirt cocoon.  The early stages, blearily shot to convey the numbed emotional state of the protagonists, are measured and underplayed, but the dead animals eventually pile up, blood runs freely during the little monster’s rampage and big-eyed Ella Connolly makes for an alarming evil child.


I also did a short review for Empire.


One thought on “Film review – Wake Wood

  1. Stephen Jilks Caught Keating and Simon Oakes talking about the film on BBC Breakfast this morning. By the clip they showed, looks like Spall is the scene-stealer.

    Andy Ross Spall is a scene stealer full stop. I’m particularly looking forward to this one. The Hammer revival appears to be gathering momentum.

    John Gibben I can’t believe The Resident is still showing at my local cinema ! Man it was so routine it was tragic imo,and talk about giving the game away early on !!

    Andy Ross Not caught that one yet. Is it really that bad? Even with the inclusion of Christopher Lee?

    Andy Ross That frailty was evident in his “Burke and Hare” cameo too. Though it’s good to see that even as an octogenarian, he’s still soldiering on.

    Bruce Hallenbeck I think we have to keep an open mind on the new Hammer. WAKE WOOD scores 100% on Rotten Tomatoes! And I thought THE RESIDENT was way above average; I wish the new Hammer all the success in the world!

    John Gibben I wish New hammer well too Bruce, but they have to keep up the standard of Let Me In rather than rehash old plots and such as they did with The Resident, i’ll not fawn over them simply because they are making flicks under the Hammer banner, if they make a great film i’ll say so, if they make a naff one i’ll say so too.

    Bruce Hallenbeck Fair enough, John; I just want to see them stay around for awhile, and WAKE WOOD sounds genuinely intriguing from the footage I’ve seen and the reviews I’ve read. One critic called it “an instant folk horror classic,” and compared it favorably to THE WICKER MAN and DON’T LOOK NOW. No small compliment, that. Thus far, except for the Internet serial BEYOND THE RAVE, which I hated, they haven’t done anything to tarnish the Hammer name, and that alone is something – especially these days, when mainstream movies have become little more than glorified video games.

    John Gibben TBH Wake Wood interests me far more than either The Resident or Let Me In did, i’m realy P.O. it’s not showing at many cinema’s after it was fan-fared out by Hammer as showing in cineams’ nationwide, well if 13 screenings at one London cinema, and a Northen Ireland cinema and preview at Bradford last week, and one today in Whitby is nationwide then good help them Bruce,i’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the Woman In Black as Nigel Kneale’s tv adaptation was pretty good imo.

    Bruce Hallenbeck Nigel Kneale’s WOMAN IN BLACK truly scared me! They have a lot to live up to with that one.

    Posted by kimnewman | July 11, 2018, 12:48 pm

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: