If I mentioned that the recent Irish import called Wake Wood opens with a small girl being savagely attacked and killed by a vicious dog, you'd probably get the wrong idea. Although the Irish horror-makers rarely dabble in the truly bleak and gory side of the genre equation, there is something viscerally disturbing about ... a small girl being viciously attacked and killed by a vicious dog. But despite the film's frankly shocking and gruesome prologue, David Keating's Wake Wood is actually quite the quiet little chiller. Until the ending, anyway. And then things get kind of crazy again.
But the bulk of Wake Wood is a sedate but slyly creepy little flick about the act of resurrecting the dead, and if it's ever really worth all the trouble. We, the audience, know it's a doomed prospect, but Keating does a very fine job of presenting two grief-stricken parents whose misery is so strong that they grab onto an opportunity they should probably have left alone. It seems the town fathers of Wake Wood have a strange little secret: they're able to raise the recently dead, but only for a few days, and the re-animated must stay firmly within township lines or, well, unpleasant things will happen. Patrick and Louise, still deeply wounded almost a year after the death of little Alice, entertain a strange offer from the town veterinarian: he can bring Alice back, so her parents can at least offer a proper goodbye, but in exchange they must stay in Wake Wood forever and tend to the town's needs. (Patrick is also a veterinarian, which explains why he had a vicious dog in such close proximity to his little girl.)
Sort of a combination of the Irish campfire tales found in Outcast and the "crazy kid" material found in Pet Sematary, Wake Wood is, for the most part, a restrained and refined little horror tale, albeit one that's not afraid of doling out some shocks and gruesomeness from time to time. As the beleaguered and mourning couple, Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle are solidly grounded, which helps Keating make things remain creepy once the plot unspools in some rather crazy directions. A welcome dash of color arrives in the form of Timothy Spall, always great, as the mysterious and off-puttingly pleasant pillar of the community who offers Patrick and Louise an enticement that's simply unfair.
If Wake Wood jumps from quiet campfire chiller to intermittent "slash-fest" at the drop of a hat, it doesn't cause much damage to the film as a whole. The third co-production from the recently resurgent Hammer Studio (after the very good Let Me In and the very bad The Resident), Wake Wood is an odd and old-fashioned dark morality tale, and frankly it's exactly the sort of low-key genre material that Hammer should be focusing on. Wake Wood is hardly a slam-bang, hyperactive horror movie, but it's a quietly satisfying on all the same.