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Case Number 21786

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Wake Wood

Dark Sky Films // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Alice Nelson // July 15th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Alice Nelson thinks the dead should remain dead—no exceptions!

Editor's Note

Our review of Wake Wood (Blu-ray), published July 5th, 2011, is also available.

The Charge

Lies have consequences, especially when you tell them about the dead.

Opening Statement

This movie is creepy, but it's the good, mess-with-your-head creepy. The kind that makes you say nice things to your spouse and causes you give your kids another peck on the cheek as they sleep. I'm singing Kumbaya as I write this to keep the eerie images of this film from invading my head again. Wake Wood is a surprisingly suspenseful thriller loaded with situations that seem all too believable and makes this export from Ireland all the more frightening.

Facts of the Case

When little Alice (Ella Connolly), the only daughter of Patrick (Aidan Gillen, Game of Thrones) and Louise (Eva Birthistle, Waking the Dead) is brutally killed by a vicious dog, the couple moves to the small town of Wake Wood to put the tragedy behind them. Their marriage is in a shambles because of the loss and Louise wants out. One night she tells Patrick she's leaving and asks him to drive her to the local train station. On the way there, the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere (as usual), but near the home of one of Wake Wood's most respected citizens, Arthur the local veterinarian, played by Timothy Spall of the Harry Potter movies. Patrick and Louise make the trek to his home to ask for help but while wandering the property looking for the old man, Louise stumbles upon an unimaginable event that she and Patrick believe will be the answer to their prayers.

The Evidence

Someone you love more than life itself dies suddenly; how far would you go to see them just one last time? Not exactly a topic for dinner parties, but a position we can imagine ourselves grappling with. In the film Wake Wood, it is this very situation that Patrick and his wife Louise find themselves pondering. What makes this film so disturbing is it takes every parents worst nightmare, a child's death, and sprinkles that tragedy with a dash of hope, albeit a twisted kind of hope, clouded with a darkness that sets an underlying tone that something here just ain't right. In the town of Wake Wood bringing loved ones back from the grave is a normal occurrence and this film artfully takes something relegated to the realms of the impossible and creates a scenario where you actually entertain the idea as if it were a possibility.

wake wood dvd

Arthur, one of the town elders takes a curious interest in Patrick, the man who will take over the reigns of his veterinary business after he retires. When a local farmer dies he offers Patrick and Louise the most exquisite yet unsettling offer—their beloved Alice back in their arms for three more glorious days. You see, there's a fresh corpse in town and Arthur doesn't want it go to waste, so he suggests that the recently deceased farmer be the vehicle that returns dear little Alice to her parents. Patrick however thinks it is ridiculous that Arthur believes he can resurrect his daughter, until Louise tells him what she witnessed a few nights before. They make a deal with Arthur that binds them to Wake Wood for life; in their desire to see Alice again, they neglect to tell Arthur one crucial detail and this decision is one they will soon come to regret. This is why Wake Wood works so well, it puts these parents in a position to tell the truth and not see Alice again, or lie and risk what would result from that deception. Do the ends justify the means? Is lying alright if it is for a good cause, even if that cause is a completely self serving one? Intellectually I think we all know what the right response should be, but emotionally it is a much harder question to answer. Either way it is still quite easy to see why Patrick and Louise chose the path they did.

wake wood dvd

Written and directed by Ireland's David Keating, Wake Wood is a wonderfully eerie movie that puts the viewer in an uncomfortable state and keeps them there until the very end. Starting with the chilling sequence using quick cuts to show the death of poor Alice, to the intricate 're-birth' ritual that brings back loved ones from the dead and the unnerving ending which left me and the husband talking long after it faded to black. I'm not a big fan of movies where little kids are victims, but I found the character of Alice to be an intriguing one. Ella Connolly was magnificent to watch as she went from a sweet child who was the victim of a horrible attack, to the self-possessed demon when she returned to the land of the living. Internet Movie Database has Wake Wood listed as her only acting credit, which is hard to believe considering the great performance she delivered.

wake wood dvd

Every strange event was filmed with a sincerity that made you take it seriously. The scene where Arthur performs the 'back to life' ritual was so, dare I say, realistic looking, that is wasn't hard at all to suspend reality and watch the movie magic as if it were just the quirky traditions of a small town. There wasn't the senseless gore that we see in a typical horror movie, it was more like watching a well done and well acted drama with a sprinkle of horror and suspense added to make sure the disturbing images stuck with you long after the movie ended. It is far easier to brush off the likes of a Mike Myers or the exaggerated goings on in movies like Saw because they are so excessive that those images, as disturbing as they may be, never really ring true. In a movie like Wake Wood however, the normalcy of the characters mixed with the creepy goings on in a quaint little town makes things all the more frightening. Any one of the townspeople looked as if they could be a neighbor, a friend or even a relative.

Wake Wood was filmed in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. Extras included the movie's trailer and an overabundance of deleted scenes, verging on boring.

Closing Statement

When I read the description for Wake Wood, I wasn't sure what to expect from this film. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the solid acting and the clever writing of a script that could've easily been a Pet Sematary rip off. It was a far superior film than the 1989 movie based on Stephen King's novel. Pet Sematary went way over the top, to the point where you just couldn't believe the decisions that were being made. Wake Wood took a more reasoned approach; one where the parents didn't go from the sublime to the ridiculous, but made a more gradual shift to their regretful decisions. Even watching the couple continue to make bad choices was believable, especially to a mom who empathized immensely with the grieving couple.

If you happen to see the trailer for this movie, don't let that dissuade you from watching it. There is an art to making movie trailers that doesn't give too much away but shows you just enough meat to make you want to drop down your movie dollars to view it. In the trailer for Wake Wood, not only does it give away too much, it comes off as cheesy and does the film little justice. Luckily I saw the trailer after I watched the movie or I would not have been as excited about reviewing it. So, don't judge this movie by its trailer.

The Verdict

Not Guilty, sufficiently spooky without unnecessary gore.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 50
Acting: 85
Story: 90
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Dark Sky Films
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
• Spanish
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama
• Horror
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes
• Trailer


• IMDb

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