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Read the fine print: “The Wake Wood”

October 6, 2012

Let’s say somebody tells you they can bring a deceased loved one back from the dead. All you have to do is follow a couple basic rules—nothing weird, like  you have to wear a Carol Channing wig and dance the can-can (you know, unless that’s what you were planning to do with the resurrected dead, which, hey, I’m not judgmental), just your basic “don’t feed them after midnight” stuff. You’d follow those rules, right? As a matter of fact, you’d probably be extra-super-incredibly attentive. I mean, I don’t know you, but I think you’d probably agree that resurrecting the dead—violating the most immutable law of nature known—is the kind of thing worth sitting still for a long explanation. It’s not like clicking the “Terms and Agreements” box.  So why do people in movies like The Wake Wood just gloss over that part?

So, The quasi-Hammer production The Wake Wood is basically a rip off of Pet Semetary, and when I say ‘rip off,” basically I mean…well, no, rip-off says it all. See, there’s this nice London couple Louise and Patrick (Patrick is played by Aiden Gillen, who played Mayor Carcetti on The Wire—was anybody American on that show?) whose adorable moppet daughter, Alice, is eaten by a dog. Okay, not exactly eaten, per se (though, wouldn’t that be awesome?), but Patrick is a veterinarian, and the dog is penned in his back yard. When Alice goes out to play with it, well, I guess it’s really pissed off about its co-pay or something and it mauls her to death.

Enjoy it while it lasts (it’s not gonna last).

Flash-forward a ways (how long is saved until later—you’ll see why), and the grieving couple have relocated to a small, Northern town, where Patrick continues to practice and Louise works as a pharmacist. Now, if you’ve seen Red Riding, then you know that nothing good happens in Northern England towns, and, yep they do see some hinky stuff. Like a spooky, pagan ritual that involves a full-grown man being birthed from a bull. Weird, right?

Soon enough one of the village elders (Timothy Spall) tells the couple that, yes, they’re pagans, and that they can bring Alice back to life for three days. No, they can’t keep her. They only have enough time to say goodbye properly. There are a couple provisos, however. First, they only get three days, no more. Second, she can’t leave the city limits—helpfully demarked by a windmill farm. Finally—and this is a deal-breaker—Alice must have been dead for less than one year. One day longer and the deal’s off. Well, Louise and Patrick are so stoked about getting their daughter back, that they immediately agree. See what I mean about clicking the box?

Clean energy and a barrier to the undead. No wonder the Republicans hate these things.

Well, they do bring her back to life in a fairly chilling sequence, and, hey, everything seems okay. I mean, she’s all normal and everything. She’s not like a zombie kid or a reanimated skeleton or anything. She can even speak and has her memories (though, she doesn’t remember the dog-mauling, which is probably for the best). So, they have some good family time, and basically everything is hunky-dorky.

Yeah, this is going to end well.

Soon, however, weird stuff starts happening. Animals are brutally killed around their yard, and one of the elders tells them she has a hinky feeling about Alice and gives them a magic necklace to fend her off with—you know, just in case. Alice herself begins to change a bit, too. She’s increasingly remote and spiteful, and inexplicably knows that Louise is pregnant, even though she herself just found out.

So, yeah, turns out Patrick and Louise may have fibbed a little about Alice’s actual date of death. Turns out, it was more than a year earlier. Patrick is all like, “C’mon! It was our daughter! What would you do?” and Spall does his best to explain that when you’re dealing with the dark arts you’ve gotta take shit seriously! I mean, they re-animating a person, not baking a zucchini bread here. And then things get really bad, as Alice begins her murder rampage, which, you know, you should probably expect when you’re bringing people back from the dead.

This is the kid they want to bring back to life? Really?

The Wake Wood is nicely suspenseful, and has atmosphere to spare in the drizzly, autumn town, but it’s also maddeningly familiar. I wasn’t kidding when I said this was a rip-off of Pet Semetary (itself, an expansion on W.W. Jacobs’ short story, The Monkey’s Paw). Once the locals start talking about raising the dead, you pretty much know where this is going. I’d like to say that the movie does a good job of playing upon the horrors of losing a child, and the desperation it leaves in its wake. But, really, it’s about what happens when you bring dead people back to life: they go all bitchcakes and kill everyone in sight.

And, of course, this movie only happens because Patrick and Louise are so casual about the rules of necromancy. I can’t emphasize this enough: if someone wants to do supernatural hoo-doo for you, just follow the damn rules.

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