FEATURE: Shocktober - Wake Wood

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list hereMild spoilers ahead for Wake Wood.

Probably one of the lowest profile films on this list, Wake Wood is a neat Irish horror starring Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle as Patrick and Louise Daley, recently bereaved parents of a daughter, Alice, who was killed in a vicious dog attack that left them both reeling. The narrative follows them after the death prompts them to move to the village of Wakewood, a place with a touch of Royston Vasey about it. There they meet Timothy Spall in fine patriarchal figure form who promises that they can have three more days with their daughter, but only three. If the rules are disobeyed, there's a steep cost to follow.

I've yet to see it, but I know enough about it to know that Don't Look Now is a big influence here, from the loss of a child and the breakdown of a marriage to the coat that Alice wears throughout the second half of the film. I can't continue to compare it until after I've seen the aforementioned classic, but I think returning to Wake Wood once I have will be a richer experience. As it stands, David Keating's film is nicely effective, relying on a sense of menace to carry the narrative forward. There's always something not quite right in any scene you're watching, usually thanks to the presence of a fantastic Timothy Spall. There's also a spiral-like quality to the film; events are repeated or referenced again but always seem to be that much worse than when you saw them before.

It fits well into the overall themes of birth, grief and death that permeate the narrative. Early on, we see Gillen's Patrick, a veterinarian by trade performing a Caesarian section on a cow which in turn is echoed in the ritual that the villagers undertake to bring back the recently deceased. However, it is only from a death that these people can be returned; corpses are relied upon to act as vessels for the reborn. Coupled with the rural setting and its fairly matter-of-fact approach to life and death, there are some interesting ideas at play here. It all comes back around once more in the film's spectacular ending, which I won't spoil for you here.

There are moments when the film's low budget is betrayed by some of the more iffy special effects, but by and large, these bits don't detract from the overall atmosphere of the film. The rural setting allows for some pretty spectacular opportunities for gore whether that be that Caesarian section, in unfortunate encounter with a bull or a killing spree that goes on later. Plenty of films explore the countryside as a place of hellish and uncontrollable traditions that end up doing more harm than good (we'll be looking at one later in the month in fact), but Wake Wood manages to bring something fresh to it by having the outsiders as the ones who inadvertently cause all the damage.

Eva Birthistle is fantastic as the grieving mother driven to desperation by events out of her control and even further by her unwillingness to accept that she must give her daughter back. Ella Connolly is also creepily good as Alice, adorable in her pre-death state and outstandingly unnerving upon her return. The only weak link is Aidan Gillen who is never quite given enough to work with and as a consequence, spends the majority of the film feeling a little flat. It's only towards the end, when the plot requires some more emotional heft, that he really has a chance to get his teeth into anything. It's worth the wait though as his final scene is pretty darn good.

Whilst it's been great to get to see lots of classic and popular horrors that have passed me by, it's also good to root out a gem that had completely passed me by. Wake Wood plays on human emotions in absurd conditions and does so very well, producing something entertainingly macabre with a cool ending to close.

- Becky

You can check out the full list of Shocktober reviews so far here.

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