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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Wake Wood

July 23rd, 2011

Wake Wood - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Hammer Films is arguably the most famous horror movie studio of all time. In fact, it is arguably the studio most associated with horror, with the possible exception of Universal back in the 1930s and 1940s. Unfortunately, its peak was in the 1960s and it has long since been out of the business. That is until recently. The studio has been relaunched and one of its first films since then is Wake Wood. It only earned a limited release in its native U.K. and is coming out direct-to-DVD here. But does it deserve a wider audience? Or will it fade into the overcrowded low-budget horror market?

The Movie

The film starts on the ninth birthday of Alice (Ella Connolly in her debut performance). After getting a net pet hamster from her father and a broach from her mother, she's off to school. Along the way, she stops at her father's veterinary clinic to feed one of the sick dogs there. It appears to be something she's done a lot in the past, because she's completely unafraid of the animal, despite its aggressive nature. But when she opens its cage to feed it, it attacks and kills her.

The loss of their child devastates Patrick and Louise and they move to the small village of Wake Wood, to start over. She sets up a new pharmacy, while he begins working for Arthur, the retiring veterinarian. It's a small village, but a farming village, so Patrick is kept busy; however, there doesn't seem to be much demand for her profession. Perhaps so much free time by herself is one of the reasons why a year later she still can't move on. One night, Patrick threatens to get rid of Alice's old stuff, which is too much for Louise and she asks him to drive her to the station. They never make it there, as their car breaks down. In the quiet of the night, Louise hears... something. It's faint and having never seen a horror movie, they decide to investigate. What they discover is a strange graveyard, and when they make it to Arthur's place, she finds Arthur leading a strange pagan ritual.

They of course leave right away, but when they get home, Arthur is waiting for them. After a vaguely unsettling conversation with Patrick and Louise (it's not quite threatening, but it is certainly not 100% friendly either) he leaves. After a few more weird events, Louise and Patrick learn the truth. ... Which is a major spoiler, if you've never seen the trailer. The people of Wake Wood belong to a strange Pagan cult and use ancient rituals to bring back their dead, for three days at a time. At first Patrick doesn't believe it at all, but Louise saw something at Arthur's place. She convinces him that it is real, and they make the bargain with Arthur.

Of course, and again this is a major spoiler, but only if you've never seen the trailer, when they bring Alice back, something is not quite right.

I'm of two minds with regards to this film. On the one hand, its a scary kid movie. It's a scary kid movie set in an offsetting English village. There are a lot of clichés in films like this and Wake Wood does very little to avoid them. (In fact, while reviewing the movie, there is an almost mandatory need to compare it to Pet Sematary.) So on the one hand, the film doesn't add much new to the genre. On the other hand, it is a well made example of the genre. The mood is exceptionally good from the general weirdness of a small town to the actual ceremony. (That was very creepy, and graphic, without going overboard.) Strangely, it's these moments, and the animal husbandry moments, that lead the way when it comes to gore. The actually killings are a bit of a letdown in comparison. The foreshadowing is a little too heavy. For instance, we know that Alice had been dead more than a year when they got to Wake Wood, so we know as soon as Arthur mentioned the one year limit that things would end poorly. Perhaps if there were more ambiguity there would have been more suspense. I do like the ending, so the film went out on a high note.

The Extras

The only extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray are 14 minutes of deleted scenes. It's not much, but for a direct-to-DVD import, it's not unusual. There are no exclusives on the Blu-ray and the technical presentation isn't exactly up to the level of a summer blockbuster. There were a couple of scenes with a little too much grain, the shadows in the night scenes tended to suck up a little too much detail. On the other hand, there were many scenes that had great clarity. The audio is better with more activity in the rear channels than many similar films. It's mostly ambient sounds, but it does help draw the viewer into the movie. Finally, the price of the Blu-ray is $19, or about 40% more than the DVD. This is a little more than I would like to pay for a release like this, but not so much more that it is a deal breaker.

The Verdict

Wake Wood is good, but not great. It starts with a good premise, adds plenty of mood and strong performances from the cast, but in the end can't quite escape the sense of déjà vu. It is still worth watching, but it is not quite up to the level the films Hammer used to make in the heyday. The DVD and the Blu-ray are not loaded with extras, but there is enough here to rate the overall package as a solid rental, leaning towards a purchase.

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