Hammer were once the kings of the horror genre in the 70s and early 80s and rightly so – they set the standards for horror films that were often not matched. Despite this, the series fell into a decline that left them dormant for the better part of 30 years. Recently however, they have seen a revival in a bid to reclaim their top spot as genre kings, and this continues with the release of supernatural chiller Wake Wood (2011).
Partick (Aiden Gillen) and Louise (Eva Birthisltle) are a married couple who give up the hussle and bussle of city life and move to the country in the wake of their daughter Alice’s untimely death. The mourning process is hard on this young couple, but having been taken in by the welcoming arms of the locals of Wake Wood and village leader Arthur (Timothy Spall), things could be looking up. Very quickly into their stay, they discover that this town has an ancient pagan ritual that can bring their daughter back from the grave for three days so that they can say their goodbyes properly. As is quite common place with such rituals, there are strict rules – rules that the couple break leaving the village and its inhabitants to feel the consequences.
The main problem with Wake Wood is that it’s an 80 minute film that should have lasted another 40. It feels like the film was a lot longer but was butchered (no pun intended) in the edit suite to keep the running time down. Because of this, none of the content of the film is given any room to breathe.
Despite it presenting a slow pace, the tempo of the film feels overly rushed and mis-timed. Scenes jump quickly from one to another which really damaged my engagement with the film. I wasn’t given any reason to care for any of the villagers within Wake Wood nor the film’s mourning couple. That’s not to say that the performances were bad because they’re not; it just feels as though the film was two steps ahead of itself and it tripped up because of it.
Because of this shortened run-time, the film’s events and set pieces feel incredibly circumstantial and coincidental, which limits their impact. A lot of the more gruesome scenes could have had a huge impression on an audience but don’t have the desired effect and despite the high levels of blood and gore, it never feels truly frightening or scary.
This is a huge shame, because Wake Wood could have really been the film that Hammer has been looking for. The setting, the music and the atmosphere were all there to support a really intriguing plot and interesting characters, but its misguidedly short running time ruins what could have been a great film. It almost feels as though all the notes were in place, but they have just been played out of time.