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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.