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Wake Wood (2010): Vet Sematary

Wake Wood (David Keating, 2011)

Ella Connolly, in a rain slicker and boots, stands in the woods gazing at the camera on the movie poster.

A walk in the woods.
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David Keating has made just two feature films in his career to date, the 1996 dramedy Last of the High Kings and the 2010 supernatural thriller Wake Wood. You’re already spanning a whole lot of genre there (and that’s not counting the two documentaries he made between). He seems to handle everything with equal aplomb; while Wake Wood is not a little derivative of a couple of previous movies (more on that later), it’s stylish and fun, not to mention put on by as crack a team of players as one is likely to find in one place.

Birthistle, Connolly, and Gillen look up at something in disbelief in a still from the film.

“Well, whatever it is, perhaps if we move very slowly it will stay in its tree…”
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Plot: Patrick (Game of Thrones‘ Aidan Gillen), a veterinarian, and his wife Louise (The Children‘s Eva Birthistle) are still mourning the death of their daughter Alice (Eliot and Me‘s Ella Connolly in her screen debut) at the jaws of a dog under Patrick’s care when he shutters his existing practice and relocates to the isolated farm town of Wake Wood. Things are going along well, but the family remain unable to get around their grief. They discover that Wake Wood is hiding a secret—given the right set of circumstances, it is possible to bring back a dead person to be reunited with his or her loved ones for three days. Alice is ready to go ahead immediately, but Patrick has reservations—if losing the girl was bad the first time, how much worse might it be on Alice’s fragile psyche a second time?

Timothy Spall gives Gillen and Birthistle a talking-to in a still from the film.

“Well yes, I did hunt vampires for a living. But now I’ve retired and I’m nothing more than the local shaman.”
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There is more to it than that, but you’re getting well into spoiler territory at that point (reading the IMDB boards will easily turn up what happens if you’re so inclined). The movie plays like a combination of Pet Sematary (the supernatural element) and Don’t Look Now (the wife being constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown—and we note in passing that Eva Birthistle has really bad luck with kids, at least on celluloid). Because of that, well, most of the twists and turns in the script are going to seem somewhat familiar. Where Keating and screenwriter Brendan McCarthy shine is in giving these familiar paths some interesting new greenery for the wanderer to peruse. (You’ll not soon forget the birth scene.) Sometimes that’s enough, and while the plot elements of the film are easily traced to other relatively recent movies (though at this point, well, Pet Sematary is almost thirty years old and Don’t Look Now turned forty last year), I don’t think you could call the plot elements McCarthy borrowed from either cliché yet. For some people that’s not enough, and if that’s you, well, okay, give this one a miss. But I think you’re missing out; this is an amazing cast (I didn’t even get to mention one of my favorite actors, Timothy Spall, who plays the town elder, nor Briain Gleeson, Brendan’s son, an apple who definitely didn’t fall far from the tree, Philomena‘s Ruth McCabe is the village wise woman, and I could go on all day) with an interesting, and slick, tale to tell. ***


About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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