So just what happens when a writer/director revisits their prestigious cult film some 40 years later? Sometimes… a pile of shit.
My apologies to those who had hoped that Robin Hardy’s return to Wicker-ness in The Wicker Tree would somehow shake off the rotten stench of the Nic Cage remake from a few years ago. Because somehow… somehow… this sequel-of-sorts may be even worse than that travesty. Heck, even Mr. Hardy has taken to referring to his sequel as a “comedy” and “black comedy” in nearly all of his interviews (here’s one, and another, and yet another) to try to explain his terrible movie – or at the very least, diminish horror fans’ expectations.
Sadly, it didn’t work. Maybe those of us who truly appreciated the whacked-out-weirdness of the 70′s version of The Wicker Man can’t imagine someone else bastardizing the cult favorite. Let alone Hardy himself. But it happened, ladies & gentlemen. It definitely happened. Is The Wicker Tree a comedy or a horror? In this humble reviewer’s opinion – it’s neither. It wants to say something, it wants to be relevant – but ultimately it’s a pale shadow of the intelligent conversation started in 1973 with Edward Woodward’s Christian cop being burned alive by an island of Pagan-y human-sacrifice practitioners.
Where The Wicker Man was solemn, The Wicker Tree is condescending. Where Man was well-made, Tree feels hastily cobbled together. Where Man‘s songs and hymns were memorable and even occasionally reverent - Tree‘s music is pitchy, pithy, childish, and bereft of any attempt at true spirituality of any kind. And worse – where The Wicker Man was solidly acted by Woodward, Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, and others – The Wicker Tree‘s entire run-time hinges on a young actress (Brittania Nicol), who – and I mean no offense at all to her as a human being – should probably quit while she’s behind. Way, way, WAY behind. She is painful to watch – and it only gets worse when she starts to sing.
And she sings. A lot.
Quite possibly the only amusing part of The Wicker Tree is that the town’s political and religious leader (Graham McTavish) is a non-believer himself – someone using the town’s own beliefs against its rural people. He runs the local nuclear power plant (!) which is making all of the townsfolk infertile (!!), so he uses their belief in the Celtic Water Goddess (Sulis) to have them hold annual human sacrifices (!!!) to encourage fertility. Each year, the townspeople select a May Queen and a Laddie – one to be embalmed as a beautiful statue, and the other to be consumed alive. Three guesses what happens to our former pop-music-tart and her simple cowboy boyfriend – and the first two don’t count. Oh, but wait! Little Miss Christianity actually does have a spine of sorts… or a mild temper-tantrum of one, which is supposed to pass for strength in this ridiculous confection.
My heart truly broke for this picture. For a comedy, it’s bereft of laughs and for a horror, it’s devoid of anything remotely frightening. If there is anything good to say about it – it’s that it looks like it was made around the same time as The Wicker Man – which was intentional. I’m always mildly impressed when a film can look like its predecessor, even when separated by decades of technological advancement. But is that a reason to subject yourself to this half-hearted mess of a proto-sequel? No. Do yourself a favor and go watch the original – a film that still shocks, surprises, and raises great conversational questions. Maybe even more so today than ever. But this? Pass. Hell, I may even be convinced to sit through the Nic Cage remake before subjecting myself to 10 more seconds of the “Beth Boothby” show. Ugh.
The Wicker Tree is available on most cable provider’s On-Demand services, as well as PlayStation Store, and Amazon Instant Video (link below).