The sometimes moldy legacy of Hammer Horror gets due tribute from “Wake Wood,” a preposterous but not entirely unprepossessing supernatural thriller partly backed by the newly resurrected scare shingle. The core conceit of the screenplay by helmer David Keating and co-writer Brendan McCarthy — a grieving couple willing to do anything to bring their dead daughter back to life — has proper emotional heft, with solid thesping by leads Eva Birthistle and Aidan Gillen. Elsewhere, however, execution is a bit sloppy, though pic probably won’t keel over as a low-key release, and should enjoy a solid ancillary afterlife.
A prologue shows how too-cute-to-be-true Alice (Ella Connolly) died on her ninth birthday after being showered with presents by her loving parents, veterinarian Patrick (Gillen) and pharmacist Louise (Birthistle). She’s killed by a dog at her father’s practice, which somewhat begs unanswered questions (likely to be posed by parents) as to why a vet’s daughter, of all people, didn’t know to be wary of such animals.
Sometime later, Louise and Patrick have moved from whatever Irish city they were living in to the small, rural community of Wakewood (one word on a sign, but two in the pic’s title), where they’ve tried to recover from the tragedy with mixed success. Deeply grief-stricken, Louise accuses Patrick of forgetting their child because he seems to have coped better. It’s later explained that the two can’t have more children.
One night, after their car has inexplicably broken down, they stumble upon the entire village taking part in a strange ritual at the farmstead owned by seemingly kind local bigshot Arthur (Timothy Spall, having a bit of fun channeling Christopher Lee). Turns out the village has the power to bring the recently deceased back to life for three precious days, but only if the person has been dead for less than a year; it also works only as long as the reborn one doesn’t leave town.
Louise and Patrick sign up straight away for this Faustian pact. But of course, something’s not quite right with Alice when she’s resurrected, and it turns out someone wasn’t telling the whole truth.
Pic’s early reels build up the atmosphere effectively enough, thanks largely to an effective creepy score by Michael Convertino and poignant perfs from Gillen and Birthistle, while supporting players (Amelia Crowley and Ruth McCabe deserve particular praise) go at their roles with straight-faced conviction, no matter how silly things get.
In the final stretch, Keating (whose previous credits include documentaries and one feature, “The Last of the High Kings”) loses his grip on the material, and pic unravels into a hodgepodge of steals from and allusions to other horror pics and thrillers, from “The Wicker Man” and “Don’t Look Now” to “Carrie.” The last scene doesn’t make even a lick of sense.
Chris Maris’ HD lensing has a loose-limbed spontaneity at first but starts to look merely shoddy by the end. Pic was filmed in Sweden as well as Donegal, Northern Ireland, but there are no glaring continuity issues.