The Wicker Tree (2012)

Writer/Director Robin Hardys 'The Wickerman' is regarded as a classic amongst genre fans, myself included. It's a film that, despite being almost 40 years old, is still leaving it's indelible imprint on films being made today (see my review for The Kill List). It has reached beyond the horror sub-genre and even outside of the cinematic realm with it's influence. Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson included a song called 'Wickerman' with his greatest hits package. Not to be out done, after Dickinson rejoined Maiden the band recorded a completely different (and superior) song named 'The Wickerman' for inclusion on their reunion disc "Brave New World". So what does Robin Hardy do when saddled with this legacy and the thought of making a new film? Does he make a sequel? A remake? A re-imagining? How about a little bit of all three?

Brittania Nichol stars as Beth Boothby, country music slut - turned Jesus freak, who drags her equally newly chaste boyfriend Steve (Henry Garrett) to Scotland in an attempt to convert all the Scottish heathens to the ways of the good lord. They land in the village of Tressock, and are charmed by Sir Lauchlin Morrison (Graham McTavish) and his wife Delia (Jacqueline Leonard). Beth agrees to become the villages May Queen, while Steve agree to participate in the festivities by becoming the 'Laddie'. Steve also gets charmed out of his pants by the rather slutty Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks). Feeling guilty he is ready to leave after the ceremony. Unfortunately for Steve, that won't be happening. Much like you would expect from a film made in the same vein as 'The Wickerman', they discover that there is something far more nefarious going on in the town than just a bunch of Christians who've lost their way. 

Hardy has stated that 'The Wicker Tree' is absolutely not a sequel, it's what he want's to call a "companion piece". I think that's a pretty accurate representation of what the film actually is. The biggest difference between it's predecessor and 'The Wicker Tree' is the tone of the film. This film is a lot lighter, breezier if you will. There are some legitimately funny parts and some characters that seem to only exist for comic relief. Unfortunately, this hurts the overall product. Beth and Steve lack the stern gravitas that Edward Woodward brought to the original. Graham McTavish, while a fine actor, is just not capable of being amiable and foreboding at the same time like Christopher Lee can. He is too likeable, even comparing himself to Mr. Burns of  'The Simpsons' at one point.  One of the things that worked so well for the original film was the growing sense of dread and increasingly odd behavior, not just from Lord Summerisle, but from the entire community. It was a slow turn, slight actions, seemingly throwaway pieces of dialogue. The change was very subtle. Here, it's a bludgeoning hammer swing when the characters turn.

Hardys script, adapted from his own novel, makes some very curious choices. The heavy handed character turns, which includes chasing the heroine around with a six inch needle. The way Steves chastity crumbles the first time he sees boobs. The curious flashback scene in which we get a cool cameo from Christopher Lee, but it seems like the scene was just tacked on. It serves no real purpose and does little to dissuade the thoughts that this is a sequel. 

There are some things that do work well though. The film does work as a breezy, yet creepy little thriller. The final 20 minutes or so are very well done and go a long way to recapturing the essence of it's predecessor. The framing of the villages pagan spirits around the backdrop of the nuclear power plants fall out is a very effective plot device. The acting (with the exception of Nichol) is very good, particularly Jacqueline Leonard as Mrs. Morrison, she comes the closest to recapturing the spirit of the original film with her performance.

'The Wicker Tree' is NOT 'The Wickerman'. It has a whole different feel. It certainly will not be held in as high a reverence as it's predecessor. Hardy knew that nothing he would do would reach those levels, so he changed the tone. Tobe Hooper did the same thing in his approach to 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2'. Hooper did a better job than Hardy did, but it doesn't mean that 'The Wicker Tree' is without merit. If you are a fan of 'The Wickerman' then certainly check this film out. Keep your mind open and take solace in the fact that Nic Cage will never think of remaking this film (hopefully)!

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