31 Days of Halloween, Day 9 – The kids are NOT alright. It’s KILLER KID WEEK!
Countdown to Halloween:
Killer Kid Week
Wake Wood (2011)
While a quick glance at the plot synopsis might remind one of Pet Sematary, Wake Wood, has more in common with Don’t Look Now and the (original … obviously) Wicker Man. A surprisingly violent opening, in which a young couples’ little girl is mauled to death by a dog (!), sets the stage for what you’d expect to be far more heavy-handed and brutal a movie than what actually follows.
The guilt-plagued veterinarian father and his ceaselessly grieving wife move away from the scene of their gruesome loss to a waaaaay out-of-the-way rural community where the townsfolk seem to live a simple, pleasant life despite that suspiciously wicker-man look in their eyes.
While they try to blend with their new surroundings, Mom hears it suggested that someone in this quaint little village can bring the recently dead temporarily back to life. It’s supposed to create an opportunity for families and loved-ones to savor a few more days — 3 to be exact – and say one last proper good-bye. It truly does “take a village” to keep a secret this big and when the grieving mother actually gets an eyeful of evidence that this is more than a local legend, she becomes hell-bent on getting her daughter back, despite possible consequences. (Dun-dun-duuuuuhn!)
To their credit the suspicious villagers may actually have some sort of magical and wonderful gift that would be better fodder for fantasy than horror if not for the dumbass out-of-towners who bust in and break what I’m guessing are ancient rules. It appears that in most cases, their bring-em-back-alive parties go off without a hitch. The whole town gathers to watch a once dead person emerge from a recently dead person (– which could have been shot better, as it happens.) There’s no Pet Sematary-esque “soured ground,” or sinister motives behind the townies who perform the ritual. As long as you follow the rules (Dun-dun-duuuuuhn!), you get a loved one back for a bittersweet three-day reunion. But there ARE rules and that’s when the killer kid part of the story kicks in. So desperate to see their daughter, the parents lie about how long she’s been dead and buried because, evidently, if it’s beyond a few weeks, this is NOT a ritual you want performed. For several reasons.
At first, their bright-eyed little Lazarus is exactly as they remember her; restored to her pre-mauling state and as cute and precocious as ever. It’s all pancake breakfasts, picnics and playtime. But as you may have guessed, bringing your child back to life might make pesky ol’ “rules” seem more than a little cruel.
When it’s time to lead their little darling back to the grave, the parents resist, hoping to leave town with her. Also a mistake, because the longer little Alice stays out of the ground, the more devious and sadistically driven she seems to become.
Wake Wood is not wholly satisfying for many reasons, the first of which being that it’s not all that scary. There are some palpable moments of tension and suspense but a fairly conventional final act keep WW from being a great new Hammer studios classic rather than just a better-than-average horror movie.
However, there is a lot to admire in Wake Wood. I especially enjoyed that the townspeople are not evil as you’d expect – just secretive. Also some early scenes of a drugstore encounter with a confused resurrected teen girl make for a subtly chilly way to introduce your movie’s premise. Overall though, Wake Wood doesn’t live up to the expectations set by the name Hammer and its own first half. It’s worth your time if you’re a horror fan but don’t expect to be wowed. It’s an easy watch, but also derivative and surprisingly forgettable.
The performances are all top-notch, but the characters are underdeveloped. Eva Birthistle (who’s dealt with fucked-up kids once before in 2008’s The Children) almost sells the crazy in a way you can at least pity if not completely understand. You sympathize with their loss and attempt to relate to their desire to raise dead Alice, but have to consider that they must be a little bonkers. Would your average parent agree to a ritual that involves digging up their daughter’s decomposed body so strangers can perform a very goopy, ethically confused resurrection ritual — of questionable origin — on their single offspring’s fresh-from-the-crypt corpse? I have a cat. I have no idea.
**1/2 (out of four)