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Wake Wood: A Borrowed Premise

May 26, 2012

Wake Wood wastes little time with silly narrative and character complexities. Instead,  Writer/Director David Keating sends us careening along a tired path already masterfully presented by Mary Lambert in Pet Sematary. Of course, anyone familiar with King’s story will find this the lazy and obvious comparison, but the truth remains that Keating’s story never attempts to find its own way.

Patrick and Louise race along a country road, their tortured faces captured in skewed close-up. Through flashback we learn that their daughter, Alice, is killed by their dog on the morning of her birthday. Mom and dad, suffering and in need of healing, move to the titular town to start anew. Cut to Patrick, a veterinarian, performing a graphic cesarean section on a cow while Louise is dishing out drugs at the local pharmacy.

Up to this point, Wake Wood succeeds in setting an intense, anticipatory tone. The opening is somber, tragic, and effectively plants the seed of dread in the viewer. Boarded up store fronts hint at mysteries to come. A woman and a young girl enter the pharmacy. There is clearly something odd about the young girl.

But the story of Wake Wood is about the tragedy of losing a child, of sending an innocent baby out into the world on her own to fend for herself, and then discovering that her youth and naiveté leave her unprepared for life. At first, I thought this is the territory we would hang out in. When Patrick tells his wife that he just wants her to be ok, I got the sense that this was setting things up for later. That we would struggle along with Patrick as he tries in vain to resurrect, not his dead daughter, but his wife. It is conceivable that a husband would go to extremes to bring happiness to his tortured partner, even if the extreme means digging up his dead daughter’s remains.

But Wake Wood doesn’t slow down, it forgets that strong characters make horror horrific. All opportunity is lost when instead we get a sudden trip to the “station.” Apparently Louise wants to go somewhere and Patrick quickly appeases his wife’s request. But when the car breaks down, the two end up stumbling upon a ritualistic rebirth while catching the attention of Arthur, played with cunning restraint by Timothy Spall.

Losing a child is the unimaginable. I can imagine, though, the opportunity for a proper goodbye would be impossible to pass up, but there are so many decisions to be made along the way. This is where Wake Wood fails. In Lambert’s Pet Sematary, the audience suffers along with the family. We want the child to return, we hope he will return as a normal boy, and we understand the depths of despair which lead to the blood drenched consequences.

In Wake Wood, however, we get none of the emotional protein. We get only the basest form of filmmaking. Working off a borrowed premise, Wake Wood suffers from a lack of creativity and human understanding. The set-up is merely an excuse for the carnage. So in the final moments when Keating means to shock us, he manages only to release us from our boredom.

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