Some months ago tragedy struck this family. It was the birthday of the eight-year-old daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) and her parents, vet Patrick (Aiden Gillen) and his wife Louise (Eva Birthistle), had given her presents and sent her off to school, thinking she would be safe on the walk there, as she was every weekday. But they did not count on Alice being distracted by one of the dogs kept in the back of the surgery, which she did not realise was very fierce so when she went to feed it the contents of her sandwich it attacked...
This glum little horror was one of the films to be presented by the rejuvenated Hammer Films, risen from the grave like one of its vampires to terrorise the villagers, or at least divert cinema audiences for an hour and a half. More likely they would be the subject of a home viewer taking a chance on their movies for an evening's entertainment, but with Wake Wood the mood was more one of tragedy as it moped through what many who saw it identified as an Irish version of Stephen King's Pet Sematary. But what was that novel but a fresh variation of The Monkey's Paw? Therefore filmmakers David Keating and Brendan McCarthy were well within their rights.
Artistically speaking that was, as too many viewers were wont to compare this to the King work, or even the 1989 film adaptation, which was not exactly great and if anything Wake Wood improved upon it with a heavy dose of Wicker Man style pagan (in the original sense) chills. Once it is established that Alice has been savaged to death by the dog, this grim event informs the rest of the story, not only inasmuch as what occurs in the narrative but also as far as the ambience goes, as if any chance at happiness is inevitably sabotaged by the trials and tribulations of this vale of tears we call life.
So if you were looking for a fun, gory fright flick then you'd be best to look elsewhere, as although this did get bloody, it most certainly did not get fun. As if acting through a fug of despair, leads Gillen and Birthistle conducted themselves as appropriately numb, grieving parents whose state is compounded by the fact that Louise cannot have any more children, but then something odd happens after they have moved to the countryside for a new shot at living. The film takes its own not-so-sweet time in reaching this development, but essentially what it is consists of is one of those traditional rituals that the villagers get up to.
Not like Morris dancing, but something more complex and perhaps even sinister, although it's the abuse of the ceremony that results in the horror more than the hubris of wishing to go against nature as it was in The Monkey's Paw. The local landowner, Arthur (a reserved Timothy Spall) visits Patrick and Louise to tell them he has a way for them to see Alice just one more time, an arcane rite that will bring back the little girl for three days and allow the parents to say their goodbyes. They cannot think of a good reason why not to go through with it, but there are one or two that they should have considered as we discover when the little girl becomes the source of a by now hackneyed set up of fear of the child. As you can imagine, this is not exactly a laugh a minute, but its rural setting and Irish flavour benefited as something distinctive, even if its tries at exploring genuine sorrow were undercut by the need for horror setpieces rather than enhanced.