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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Wake Wood (Blu-ray)
Wake Wood (Blu-ray)
Dark Sky Films // R // July 5, 2011 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 25, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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"Alice has a lovely voice," casually whispers a cadaverous teenage girl as she strolls by. Louise (Eva Birthistle) is horrified; her nine-year-old daughter Alice had suffered
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a particularly brutal death a year earlier, shortly before she and her husband Patrick (Aidan Gillen) relocated to the sleepy Irish village of Wake Wood. Few there know of the tragedy, and it's beyond Louise's comprehension that the visiting niece of a woman she'd barely spoken to could possibly be aware of such a thing. She is soon informed of the secret of Wake Wood, one that's not dark and malevolent but instead a bridge to help overcome loss. The townsfolk routinely band together for a bloody Pagan ritual that resurrects the freshly dead. It sounds worse than it is. Though living blood and the disfigurement of a corpse are elements of the ritual, no one is truly harmed. Once resurrected, the undead can hardly be mistaken for zombies. They act just as they did in life, unaware of their deaths and instead feeling as if they've simply awoken from a long sleep. There are rules, however. The ritual must only be performed on those who've been in the earth for less than a year. The resurrected cannot leave the confines of Wake Wood; if they do, they'll revert into a mangled corpse. Those who are brought back remain in the realm of the living for only three days, after which time they'll rather willingly return to their graves. Three days may not sound like much, but it's certainly long enough to say goodbye. The only problem is that Alice has been dead for a few short weeks longer than they're told the ritual will allow. Patrick and Louise make it a point not to mention that, so desperately aching to see their daughter again that they have to at least try. Despite their lie, the resurrection is a success. To look at Alice, she's her bubbly, ridiculously cute self, just as her parents remembered her. ...and yet there are moments when a cold stare creeps across her face. Patrick and Louise see only their beloved daughter, but the rest of the townsfolk are quickly
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convinced that Alice didn't come back quite right. Their worst suspicions are soon proven correct.

Just as Alice has been resurrected from the dead, so too has Hammer Films. Wake Wood marks one of the first projects from the newly-revived Hammer, and playing rather like a collision of Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man -- two of the most memorable genre films from the class of 1973 -- it's almost as if the studio never left. Wake Wood does the Hammer name proud, updated yet refusing to betray the spirit of the past. Wake Wood doesn't have any chugging guitars or bleating electronica behind it. The film shrugs off spastic quick cutting. Though there is some graphic gore, it's glimpsed briefly and usually in tightly-framed cutaways, almost as if it was tacked on after the fact out of obligation. The malevolence is cold and silent. Wake Wood draws its power from stellar performances, richly drawn characters, striking cinematography, and an inescapably gloomy atmosphere; it doesn't need to lean on the same trite crutches that lesser genre movies so often do.

Though I don't want to spoil some of what's revealed throughout the film, suffice it to say that I'm intrigued by the way Wake Wood approaches the ritual...the way it explores these people. It's easy to draw comparisons to The Wicker Man, given the isolation, Paganism, the close-knit and close-mouthed community, the intimate connection between man and nature, and the way in which this village seems to exist in an entirely different era, but their motivations aren't at all what I was expecting. This is not a story about evil; it's about grief...about overcoming loss. Wake Wood shrugs off the traditional horror formula of shoehorning in some kind of scare
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every eight to ten minutes because it's unnecessary. With atmosphere this rich and characters this compelling, the film's grip is unrelenting. I rarely expected what was to come next. The movie crafts a looming, pervasive sense of dread, and Wake Wood does such a masterful job building tension that the eventual release is almost beside the point. Quite a long time passes before Alice spills blood, and in a lot of ways, that's tragic rather than horrific. She's not an evil creature. She doesn't delight in the suffering of others. She doesn't devolve into anything feral or inhuman. Though the townsfolk don't treat her with the least bit of cruelty or malice, it's not hard to argue that Alice's killing spree is still motivated by a sense of self-preservation.

I'll admit to a longstanding fascination with horror films about cold, murderous children, and Wake Wood stands strong with the best of them. I'm left with shockingly little to criticize. A sex scene between Patrick and Louise too overtly echoes Don't Look Now while lacking its enduring power. Again, some of the gore feels tacked on as if it's some kind of contractual obligation, and the film's disinterest in it is apparent. I was disappointed in what looked to be a traditional and overly telegraphed "one last scare...", but the film wisely doesn't end there, and the epilogue that follows is anything but conventional. Wake Wood is a haunting, resonant story of grief and community...a film with a classic, atmospheric approach to horror that proves itself more than worthy of the Hammer name. Highly Recommended.


Video
This high definition presentation of Wake Wood is erratic, but all of that appears to date back to the original photography. The movie doesn't attempt to mask the fact that it's an entirely digital production, and a number of shots have an unmistakeable video-like appearance to them that doesn't look particularly cinematic. Contrast is also wildly uneven. At times, it's clearly by design, such as the blown-out whites throughout the opening flashbacks. Wider shots under limited light tend to be flat and lifeless, with black levels devolving into more of a milky gray. There is some sporadic softness as well. Still, definition and detail are frequently both robust, especially whenever the camera's closed in fairly tightly. Wake Wood makes wonderfully effective use of color, vividly saturated in happier times but generally gloomy and overcast, and that's handled with more subtlety than genre films often allow. Being a wholly digital production, it goes without saying that there aren't any concerns with wear or damage. No edge enhancement or compression artifacting caught my eye, and the very fine texture of the video noise in darker shots suggests a lack of noise reduction. I did notice one instance of heavy banding, although that appears to be an isolated incident:

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Wake Wood is unavoidably uneven, but its presentation on Blu-ray appears to as faithful and flawless as the original photography will allow. Not every disc is going to be reference quality, and I'm completely satisfied with what Dark Sky has delivered here.

This Blu-ray disc preserves Wake Wood's intended aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and its AVC encode, lossless and uncompressed soundtracks, and smattering of extras all fit on a single-layer disc.


Audio
In keeping with the somewhat understated approach of the film, Wake Wood's 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack emphasizes atmosphere more than anything else: a torrential downpour, leaves lightly rustling in the wind, bleating cows, and the banging of sticks against wood, for instance. The sound design is effective enough to heighten the film's more unnerving moments without resorting to the usual horror clichés. The lower frequencies are used with restraint but to strong effect when unleashed, and dialogue is reproduced cleanly and clearly enough. By design, Wake Wood's audio isn't some sort of needlessly aggressive sensory overload, and though that doesn't make for all that interesting a Blu-ray review, the film is certainly better for it.

Also included are an uncompressed stereo track as well as subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.


Extras
Very
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little, disappointingly.
  • Deleted Scenes (14 min.; SD): Wake Wood's reel of extended and deleted scenes looks to be exceptionally comprehensive, with several of these moments lasting only a couple of seconds...just long enough to establish a sense of place or deliver an additional line of dialogue. Among them are a Bratz doll whose eyes bleed and Alice accidentally cutting herself. The overwhelming majority of the reel is devoted to the ritual that resurrects Alice. The prelude and the ritual itself are explored in much greater -- and much grislier -- detail. Wake Wood is better served by the truncated version in the final cut, particularly the disconnect between man and nature as well as the omission of some tremors that wind up looking somewhat ridiculous, but it's still intriguing to see what could've been.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): The only other extra is a theatrical trailer. There are standard definition trailers for other Dark Sky releases elsewhere on the disc.

The Final Word
Wake Wood is an intelligent and artfully crafted horror film, one that delivers its share of gruesome, visceral moments -- almost out of obligation -- but largely prefers to focus instead on its gloomy pastoral atmosphere...on community...on grief. It does the Hammer name proud. Highly Recommended.
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