The title of a 1979 rockumentary about The Who asserted that The Kids Are Alright. That may have been the case in England then, but these days, the kids are definitely not all right on the Emerald Isle across the Irish Sea.
What IS all right today in Ireland is the film industry, which, with promotion by the Irish Film Board, has been producing some remarkably good works across various genres, including horror. Curiously enough, three recent films in that genre (each very good and very different) have focused on children in peril, variously as causes or victims of particularly nasty mayhem.
Wake Wood (2009) opens with the death of young Alice (Ella Connolly), a girl who’s mauled by a vicious dog being cared for by her veterinarian father Patrick (Aidan Gillen, “Littlefinger” Baelish in Game of Thrones). In their grief, Patrick and his wife Louise (Eva Birthistle) relocate to Wake Wood, a rural village controlled by Arthur, a wealthy landlord (Timothy Spall). Though Patrick returns to his practice, Louise is unable to put aside her grief for her dead daughter.
Then quite by accident, she stumbles upon an ancient secret of Wake Wood. Under the guidelines of a carefully prescribed ritual, a once-dead family member can be restored to life for three days, giving the grieving family time to renew their love and properly prepare good-byes. Of course, there’s a catch (isn’t there always?), as Patrick, Louise, and the residents of Wake Wood soon discover, to their great regret.
While utilizing elements of The Monkey’s Paw and The Wicker Man, Wake Wood is still a genuine original, director David Keating blending pagan folklore with palpable human drama to evoke both terror and sympathy. An early scene showing Patrick performing a Caesarian section on a cow is mirrored at the end, heralding a very different kind of birth. Well-acted all around, with solid direction and atmosphere to spare, Wake Wood is a real winner in the chills department.
Citadel (2012) places its horrors in an urban setting, the title referring to a dreary housing tower, which, at the film’s beginning, young Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his pregnant wife are joyous to be leaving. Tragedy of a particularly vicious kind inevitably strikes, leaving Tommy with an infant daughter and a severe case of agoraphobia, aggravated by the feral children who caused his wife’s death and now seem to be targeting his child.
Recruited by a profane renegade priest (James Cosmo) and a blind boy, Tommy is forced to confront his terrors if he wants to save his daughter. Of course, it means returning to the nest of the demonic kids whose origin, it turns out, is one of the film’s biggest surprises. Claustrophobic and grim, Citadel shares a distant bloodline with Straw Dogs. As with Wake Wood, the acting, production values, and direction are quite good. In contrast, a major difference is the haunting rural setting of Wake Wood and the sordid, grimy urban locale of Citadel.
Back to the country for The Hallow (2015), an environmental horror film of sorts. Originally titled The Woods, this new ambiguous title (usually meaning a shrine or something holy) refers instead to the kind of creature that lives in a particular branch of Irish forest, currently slated to be hewn for lumber by the government.
Accordingly, a forestry scientist is assigned the task of selecting which trees should be removed. The temporary job means that he, his wife and infant son will live in an isolated community. He hadn’t even considered that some local folklore about avenging rural demons and changelings could be true.
Director Corin Hardy has described his breakthrough feature as a cross between Straw Dogs and Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s no egotistic boast. The tension and suspense of Dogs is wed expertly with the horror elements and technical expertise of Labyrinth to create an almost unrelenting confrontation for most of the film’s running time.
A winner of several awards on the festival circuit, The Hallow has also resulted in the selection of writer/director Hardy to helm the reboot of The Crow. Here’s hoping!
Stick around to the end of the credits for some clever use of music as well as Hardy’s concluding acknowledgements: “In memory of Ray Harryhausen, Dick Smith, Stan Winston & Leo Hardy, who taught me to believe in monsters.”
The Hallow is a terrific horror film, and that’s a classy tribute to the F/X giants and the filmmaker’s father.