10/6/12

The Wicker Tree (2010) Now Available In Pier 1’s Everywhere

The October horror train keeps on rolling, and it’s come to a stop in belated sequel city. I’m not sure there has been a sequel to any film that had a delay of thirty seven years between the first and second film releases, but I know Robin Hardy has just been way, way too busy to climb back in the director’s chair. After 1973’s The Wicker Man, a classic cult horror film that really delves into a different area of horror than most film, Robin waited thirteen years before directing his next feature The Fantasist. Then he… well, frankly I don’t know what Mr. Hardy has been puttering around doing for the last 23 years, but it had something to do with writing a spiritual sequel to The Wicker Man in the form of a novel, the 2006 release Cowboys for Christ. When I first hear rumor of today’s film, it was in production under the same name as the title, and the brief synopsis involving Texan evangelicals getting mixed up with Scottish pagans was enough to pique my interest. However, when the film arrived under the sequelish name The Wicker Tree, my interest waned. The title, perhaps foisted on him to secure financing (or perhaps of his own decision, I could never find a clear answer) took all the punch out of the film making it look like a wan grab for cash by reusing the ‘Wicker’ name, and after Nic Cage had gotten done with it, that hardly even seems like the best plan. Never the less, I decided to check back into the world previously dominated by Lord Summerisle, who does make an appearance here linking the two films, and see if The Wicker Tree made me want to scream “Oh, Jesus. Oh, God Noooooooo!” or if I’d just rather watch dudes in bear costumes beating up chicks


Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) used to be a bad girl of country music with her tune “Trailer Trash Love”, but since she was “born again”, she has devoted her life to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ along with her fiancée Steve (Henry Garrett). The pair is selected by their Pentecostal congregation to spread the good news out into the world, and where else would one go to try to proselytize then the heathen Scottish. After failing to win over any of the Scot city folk, Beth and Steve’s hosts, Sir Lachlan Morrison and Lady Delia Morrison (Graham McTavish and Jacqueline Leonard) invite them to their estate where they can try their hand at converting the simple country folk. Unfortunately for Steve and Beth, the simple country folk already have a higher power, the sun goddess Sulis, and May Day, a high pagan celebration is closing in soon. While the two Americans try and keep their chastity, what they should have been concerned about was keeping their lives. It might seem a great honor to be named the May Queen and her Laddie, but maybe they ought to have asked a bit more specific questions about what the job entailed.

Where The Wicker Man was a tale of a man blinded by what he thought was his duty as a police officer and a Catholic, the leads in The Wicker Tree have another blinding influence, the veil of Evangelical Christianity and the duty to spread the good news. Thematically, both films are very similar with the main characters stumbling forward into a worse and worse situation without realizing it. The only real difference is that The Wicker Man’s Sergeant Howie was actively pursuing a solution to a mystery while Beth and Steve blindly carry on until it is too late. There is also a tonal difference between the two films. Where The Wicker Man is clad in austere Britishness wrapped in paganism, The Wicker Tree serves mostly as a black comedy, mainly pointed at stupid Americans,  with some actual laugh out loud moments throughout. Now, I will admit that the religious Americans are played as patsies, and it could be seen as unreal. However, there wasn't an action they took I could not see blind, devoted followers of the gospels taking due to their unswerving faith. I mean seriously neither one of them picked up on the fact everyone kept calling it, “your bible”. That kind of should have been a tip off that something wasn't right in Scotland. Or perhaps all the talk of an ancient Sun Goddess named Sulis (a.k.a Minerva to the Romans) should have maybe been another clue that the pair were being cultivated for something unsavory, but I suppose Jesus wouldn't let a thing like that happen to his followers? Right? Well, probably not most of them at least.

What really holds the film together is the acting on display. While the plot is a shaky re-tread of the first film, the characters could not have been more different. Beth, played by Brittania Nicol is the picture of the girl next door or as another character describes her, “She’s pretty in a corn fed, apple cheek sort of way. I bet she smells like a dairy.” The dialog goes on to wax poetic about her “musky bush”, but I think I should leave that there. Nicol, who was a first time actress (and sang all her own songs for the film) was as perfect a piece of casting as one could have asked for. The same can be said of Henry Garrett’s innocent, dumb, horny Steve. He gets across a blissful ignorance while still getting across the baser emotions surrounding the silver “Promise Ring” that Beth makes him wear. I have to take a minute to talk about Honeysuckle Weeks who plays Sir Lachlan’s hostler, Lolly. First off, I have to say (to satisfy my baser emotions) she is so bloody hot, and to top it off, she has a name like a Bond girl. Weeks, who is primarily a television actress in Britain, is not at all afraid to be seen in the buff, and her sexy affair with Steve makes for one of the film’s pivotal plot points. The only strange part is that part of the film (actually another sex scene for her) is subtitled, and though she has quite the accent, I’m still unsure why it was necessary as the dialog wasn't even important to the film.  As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Christopher Lee does appear in a flashback to link the two movies, and despite the fact he is credited as “Old Man” there is little doubt that he was again playing Lord Summerisle. I could go on about individual performances, but, suffice it to say, across the board I felt they were all above par.

As he has only directed two previous films as I mentioned earlier, it is surprising how deft Robin Hardy is as a director. While he himself admitted to preferring The Wicker Man over The Wicker Tree, there is definitely some growth as a visual artist on display here which both time and a jump in technology could account for. Cinematographer Jan Pester did an excellent job of pairing with Hardy to give the film an ethereal, dreamlike quality, but it stumbled in the few instances it went to what I called “Raven vision”. It was an unnecessary element in an otherwise tonally stable film.  Another disappointing element was the score. The original film featured a classic composition by one time composer Paul Giovanni, but The Wicker Tree’s musical accompaniment by journeyman musician John Scott was all but forgettable. The only musical piece that made a real impact was the hymn “The Power in the Blood” which takes on a whole new meaning by the film’s conclusion.

The Wicker Tree does not stack up with The Wicker Man, but it is a better movie (though not as unintentionally funny) as the remake. I think many people will be disappointed in the shift in tone between the two films. It’s the same reaction people might have to Texas Chainsaw 1 & 2. While the first was a grittier, straight up serious film, the belated sequel plays with the material a little more and there is a tongue in cheek element at work. It will also likely offend Christians, but I can’t imagine too many hardcore Evangelicals (or do we just call them “Values Voters” these days) are going to run out to the store to pick up a copy of The Wicker Tree. Overall, what would have helped the film is to be divorced from the original, and instead stand on its own as a dark comedy with an eye to the dangers of being blinded by religion. The Wicker Tree has been called the second in a trilogy, and if there is another I will watch it, however, I would like to see Hardy try something different (and I don’t mean different like Bees and Bear suits either.)

Bugg Rating

3 comments:

  1. I don't have the other accounts so i'm anonymous, but as far as sequels go there is the Thin Red line (1998), which is the sequel to From Here to Eternity (1953).

    -Trivia From Me To You

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the bit of trivia, but as both movies were based off books which, while talking about different parts in the author James Jones life, I don't think that's quite the same as a fictional sequel written long after. That is unless you feel that Where the Buffalo Roam, Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, and The Run Diaries are a trilogy.

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  2. Hm. The TCM 2 comparison is actually spot on. I think you can watch The Wicker Tree and choose to enjoy it, knowing it's in a different league than the original. You can enjoy the songs (which I actually really dug) and the comedy, or you can say "It's nowhere NEAR as good as The Wicker Man!" But what is? The further I get away from the film, the more I kind of accept it as something fun and different.

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