DVD Review: The Wicker Tree (15) / Director: Robin Hardy / Screenplay: Robin Hardy / Starring: Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett, Graham McTavish, Honeysuckle Weeks, Christopher Lee / Release Date: April 30th
Robin Hardy’s companion piece to the legendary 1973 Wicker Man fails to live up to the psychological horror of its original.
Based upon Hardy’s novel, Cowboys for Christ, two Texas Christians, Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) and Steve Thompson (Henry Garrett) travel to Scotland to preach the word of God to the pagan locals. The couple end up in the small village of Tressock and agree to become the Queen and Laddie of the local Mayday celebration in an effort to win over the natives and convert them to Christ. Things soon take a turn for the sinister. The good folk of Tressock have a different idea on how to ‘celebrate’ Mayday, and it doesn’t involve Morris dancing and flag poles, that’s for sure. Steve is led astray by Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks) and is burdened with shame by his little romp with her in the local river, while Beth, who used to be a sexy pop star, is desperate to distance herself from her once sinful ways.
The Wicker Tree retains some of the elements of the original, a certain 70’s feel, loosely drawn characters, sex scenes that make you chuckle, yet it still manages to come across as a watered down version of Wicker Man. The satirical humour present in The Wicker Tree doesn’t quite work, apart from the subtitled sex scene – intentional or not. Both the Texas Missionaries are unlikable, almost repugnant characters, defined by their faith and constrained by the script, never quite managing to break out and make an audience sympathise enough to care whether they live or die. The villagers have more engaging characters, Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish) Lady Delia (Jacqueline Leonardas) and even a cameo from Christopher Lee who appeared in Wicker Man. Their motivations are far better mapped out than our bumbling protagonists.
It’s all a far cry from Edward Woodward’s performance as Sergeant Neil Howie. A character that, despite being a devout Christian, wasn’t defined by his faith and managed to win the audience’s heart right from the get-go.
The Wicker Tree does successfully raise itself above the 2006 remake of Wicker Man – a film considered by most to be one of the worst remakes of recent years. Also, it makes a fine addition to the sub-genre of horror, defined by Mark Gatiss as ‘Folk Horror’. Other films of this short-lived genre include: Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan’s Claw.
Still, it’s as much a tribute to a bygone era of film making as any addition to horror. Sadly, the film never quite lives up to its expectations, and while certain scenes prove interesting, it is, in the main, a tedious and a time consuming affair.