Once a reliable brand of horror, Hammer Films in its recent resurrection has been wildly spotty, with three new films thus far. If “Let Me In” stands atop the ladder, and “The Resident” at the bottom, then “Wake Wood” is hanging out somewhere among those middle rungs.
Aiden Gillen (TV’s “Game of Thrones”) and Eva Birthistle (TV’s “Waking the Dead”) form the married couple of Patrick and Louise. He’s a veterinarian, she’s a pharmacist, and both are grieving over the death of their 9-year-old daughter (newcomer Ella Connelly) by snarling dog.
One night, while in need of roadside assistance, they stumble onto a very goopy ritual of rebirth run by Arthur (Timothy Spall, Wormtail from all those “Harry Potter” movies). With a few calculations on his magic abacus, he tells the sad parents he can bring Alice back to them, but only for three days, and rife with ridiculous terms and conditions.
Stupidly, they agree, and everything you think will happen does. “Wake Wood” plays like a loose, modern-day adaptation of W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” but note that a big part of that short story’s effectiveness was its brevity; it was told in something like 10 pages or less, whereas “Wake Wood” is a slow-paced patience-tester at an hour and a half. At least Stephen King had the good sense to expand the idea by tenfold for “Pet Sematary.”
Yet there are elements to admire in David Keating’s fully competent, technically sound feature; in particular, Michael Convertino’s spry, percussion-heavy score, and the believable, grounded performances from the likable Gillen (so good in the British series “Identity”) and the fetching Birthistle, who appear in an erotic, nongratuitous sex scene that accurately depicts spouses in love. I also appreciate the dark streak of the epilogue, circling back to the opening’s Cesarean section of a cow. —Rod Lott