Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Into the Wood

Note to self: if I ever find myself in a position to take advantage of some supernatural boon, I plan to follow the conditions of that boon to the letter. Because, really, if you break the rules when, say, bringing your dead daughter back to life, things will ONLY end badly. This is the lesson of Wake Wood (2011, directed by David Keating), an unassuming little Irish horror movie released as part of Hammer Studio's recent revival.

In tone and spirit, it's closer to Hammer's aesthetic than either Let Me In or The Resident, vampires and Christopher Lee not withstanding. But it's still not quite there yet. It reminds me more of an Amicus production, or better still, a Tigon film, one of those films from the baby Hammers in which Pagan cults still haunt the British countryside. But the resemblance is only superficial. There are four decades between those old films and this one, and even though the formula is the same, the conventions of the horror film are dramatically different. Horror movies--even at budgets as low as the one for Wake Wood--show a level of craft these days that would have beggared Hammer or Amicus or Tigon. Visually, it's very much of its time.

The formula is the same, as I say, which is to say that the film goes out to film in the picturesque Irish countryside and includes a moderately big star as a draw and to add gravitas. The star in this case is Timothy Spall, who, while not an icon on the level of Lee or Cushing, never the less has pretty good genre cred. The movie uses Spall the way old Hammer would have: they've obviously paid for a limited number of days, so he's a key character who doesn't have much screen time. Basically, he's this film's Savant. The rest of the cast is filled out with capable but obscure actors ; the film offers up interesting faces.

The story here follows a veterinarian and his wife after their daughter is killed by a dog. They relocate to the sleepy little town of Wake Wood where they discover that the locals know a Pagan ritual that will bring their daughter back to life. The catch: the girl will only come back for three days and she can't have been dead for more than a year. There are some other rules, too, but the plot hinges on this last one, because, so desperate to see his daughter again, our idiot protagonist lies to the locals about how long his daughter has been dead. This is bad. I could fault the film for providing yet another version of the creepy child, but to what end? Horror movies will be making movies about creepy children as long as there are films. They always work on some level.

Basically, this is a version of "The Monkey's Paw," filtered through Don't Look Now (including the raincoat!) and Pet Sematary. As in the latter film somethings should just be allowed to stay dead. The film sets this up nicely with its portrait of a grieving couple, and the performances are pretty good. The film has a subdued, murky feeling that adds to the emotional distress. The horror movie mayhem at the end of the movie almost seems out of place after this beginning, but horror movie mayhem there is, though not all of it comes from the mechanics of its plot. The role of our hero as a veterinarian provides ample opportunities to squick out the audience, whether it's from delivering a calf by cutting it out of its mother, or watching a man crushed to death by the back end of a woolly bull. The movie films these scenes with an eye for the gross-out, though they are not cartoonish in the least. The horror elements seem kind of a come down from these scenes, given that they don't have the same level of believability. I mean, it's one thing to watch a man crushed by a bull--that shit happens--but watching a little girl pull the heart out of a woman? Um, only in a horror movie. Still, this is an efficient little thriller that has only modest ambitions. It mostly fulfills those ambitions, which is all I can ask, I guess.

Current tally: 16 films

First time viewings: 16

Around the web:

Bob over at The Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind has another summary of his viewings, including Dead of Night (1970s version), Day of the Dead (1985), Mark of the Vampire, and 30 Days of Night.

Mr. Gable's Reality endures (and rather enjoys) The Bloody Ape.

Over at Expelled Grey Matter, Eric endures (and does NOT enjoy) The Witch's Mountain.

Darius over at Adventures in Nerdliness takes time out for some Women in Prison action in Sugar Boxx.

Caroline over at Garbo Laughs takes on The Beast with Five Fingers and finds it wanting.

The Vicar of VHS plunges into The Short Night of Glass Dolls and is not disappointed.

Meanwhile, Justin over at The Bloody Pit of Horror returns with a ton of new viewings, including Twisted Nerve, Una gota de sangre para morir amando, Thrill Killer, and Requiem for a Vampire (which I'll be getting to myself in a couple of days...).

Finally, Ashley over at Pussy Goes Grrr starts to enumerate her favorite horror movie characters.

1 comment:

Oldhorrormovie said...

Any movie with Timothy Spall is worth a look. Jesus, that man can project sleaze just by smiling. I will have to get hold of this one.