March 25th sees the release of Hammer Horror Wakewood, directed by David Keating. The story is based in the village of Wake Wood in rural Ireland that has preserved a tradition which enables its inhabitants to bring a person back from the dead for three days, one year after their death, in order to say a final farewell to their loved ones, before they make their final journey to the spirit world.
Patrick and Louise Daly have come to Wake Wood to take over the veterinary practice. They are relocating from the city to recover from the tragic death of their daughter. The couple can’t have another child. They discover the ritual and ask if the villagers might bring their child back. The villagers agree to help but remind them that they can only have her back for three days and then she must return to the world of the dead. Patrick and Louise accept the rules, but when their child returns, they decide to keep her and break their agreement. The couple pay a terrible price for this transgression. Keating talks about the film.
What were your initial thoughts when Brendan McCarthy approached you with the script?
I was actually an outside assessor on the scriptwriting MA that Brendan completed on leaving the Irish Film Board. I think he had done a preliminary draft and a first draft when I read it as an assessor. He was an old friend of mine so when I saw it in the marking box I approached it with trepidation!
Although it was rough I really felt like it had huge potential so I called him up and let him know how much I liked it. He called me back a week later and asked me if I’d direct it. Brendan completed another 5 or so drafts himself then we began working on the script together but in the latter stages I gradually took over most of the writing duties.
Tell us about the writing process, which seems to have been very collaborative. How did you and Brendan work together?
We always discussed everything in advance then I went off and wrote our ideas up. I felt I was mainly addressing the structural issues as Brendan had already nailed the basic concept – a couple loosing their child and wanting to bring her back for three days. It was a very powerful story from the beginning.
I felt it was important to make Patrick and Louise strong, sympathetic characters. We upped the stakes a lot throughout the various drafts so that their marriage was really on the line by the final version. The original version began in Wake Wood, so you didn’t see what happens to Alice at the beginning. We also developed the mythology of the film a lot throughout the various drafts.
How did you approach directing wake wood? Was it different to directing a straight drama or comedy?
I’m a horror fan, so I just approached it as making a film I would like to see myself. I’m particularly drawn to 1970’s horror such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, The Exorcist, anything by Polanski. However, this film was not a pastiche for me, but instead a contemporary update of that 1970’s sensibility.
What look and feel were you trying to achieve?
Colour was very important, as were certain ways of framing the shot. The look of the film was a major collaborative effort between myself, the producers and my key head’s of department, such as DOP Chris Maris and production designer John Hand. I story boarded all the main set pieces then we had a lot of talks and really figured out how we could achieve the look of the film that we wanted. One of the conscious stylistic decisions we made was to do the effects in front of the camera rather than in post because this gives a completely different feel compared to using CGI. The ritual set pieces are completely bizarre to begin with – just the idea that you would use the body of a big, old, dead farmer to rebirth a child is so off the wall, but very fun to try achieve visually. We knew exactly what we wanted the end result to be so it was just a matter of figuring out how to achieve it.
Tell us a little about the music in the film
The musical score plays a very important role in the film and we’ve had really positive feedback about it so far. The score was composed by Michael Convertino, an LA based composer who scored films such as Bull Durham, The Last of the High Kings and Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead. I’d worked with him before and we have a really good, collaborative working relationship. He was onboard well before we began shooting and we spoke a lot about the music and about aural reference points. Some of the reference points we used included ethnographic recordings from a Romanian mental institution and recordings of the theremin (an electronic instrument) being played. We listened to a lot of strange, old traditional music but in the end we went for a much more modern feel. I tend to record stuff myself and at one stage my son brought three of his girl friends home from school and we recorded them singing and screaming at the same time. Sounds strange, but it really was the most fascinating creative process.
What’s the lasting message of the film?
Ultimately, I think this is a film about transgression. We really care about the two main characters but the interesting point is that while they are certainly the protagonists, they are also the antagonists. Everything that happens is their fault but as an audience we go along with all the mistakes they make because we know we would do the exact same thing in their place.