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The Wicker Tree – 5

Director – Robin Hardy

Cast – Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett, Graham McTavish, Jacqueline Leonard, Honeysuckle Weeks, Clive Russel, Prue Clarke, Leslie Mackie, David Plimmer, Christopher Lee

Release Year – 2012

Reviewed by John of the Dead

In 1973 writer/director Robin Hardy gave movie goers one of the most horrific horror films of all time, and one of my absolute personal favorites, The Wicker Man. Nothing like the absolute piece of junk, Nicholas Cage-starring remake of 2006, the 1973 epic contains some of the best dialogue ever written and what is absolutely one of the most shocking climaxes in film history. When word broke that Robin Hardy would be giving us the next installment in his Wicker Man trilogy, a companion piece to the original film that is based on his novel “Cowboys For Christ”, The Wicker Tree was one of the few horror films debuting in the last few years that really excited me. When the film debuted in the UK last year I was a little bummed to learn of its negative response from moviegoers, and after seeing the film for myself I can say that not only does the film not live up to its predecessor (which I knew would never happen), but it fails to deliver a good experience to its viewers.

Dallas, TX pop star turned gospel singer Beth and her boyfriend Steve, both devout evangelical Christians from the Cowboys for Christ church, are sent on a two year mission to spread the word of God to the people/heathens of Scotland. After suffering initial hostility, the duo of virgins are welcomed with joy and much elation to the village of Tressock, which they assume is the village’s desire to hear and learn about Jesus. The couple’s innocence and naivety will cost them dearly though, as the village is coming up on its annual Queen of the May festival – a festival which contains grave plans for the village’s virgin guests.

Much like The Wicker Man‘s epic story, The Wicker Tree contains themes of religion, paganism, sex, power, and sacrifice. It is rare that we see films that contain all of these elements and combine them into an effective story, but Robin Hardy seems to have a knack for these themes. His story begins quickly, with country girl Beth and cowboy Steve leaving Dallas for Scotland and making their way from their initial town to the village of Tressock where they will experience horrors they never saw coming. If you have seen The Wicker Man then you are pretty sure what is going on with the villagers and their plans for the young couple, but regardless Hardy’s story is an engaging one that keeps you interested throughout. It is obvious that the villagers are hiding something from their guests, with subtle hints to the horrific events to come. It takes about 67 minutes for the film to really kick into gear, and that may be a problem for some viewers. Often-times slower-moving films will pick up around the 45 minute mark, but Hardy took many luxuries in developing his story and that may be a turn off for some. Gladly he did keep things interesting and I KNEW that I was in for a big climax so I managed to stay engaged, but 67 minutes of development is quite a bit and will turn off those who are not truly interested in what is going on and eventually going to happen. This brings me to the film’s ending sequence and subsequent climax that consume the film’s final 30 minutes, and there is where the flick loses the experience. The build up is engaging and we are given a different ritual than the one shown in The Wicker Man, and the title should give away that this flick employs a tree instead of a man. The apex of the film’s horror is what the villagers have planned for Beth and Steve, and I can say that their plans are quite horrific and match the intentions of the islanders in the previous film. Sadly, this story does not give us the goods in the same fashion, but gives us a much tamer experience that most definitely did not make up for the film’s interesting but still overly long development, and THAT is my beef.

Aside from The Wicker Man, Robin Hardy directed the 1986 film The Fantasist, and 26 years later he returned to the directing scene with this effort. From the get-go I was impressed and realized that Hardy had not really missed a beat in his ability to secure the audience’s attention right away. His amazing soundtrack kicks into gear and he expertly brings us into his screenplay that moves locations quite a bit early on. Character performances are one of the requirements for Hardy keeping the viewer’s interest during the film’s long take-up, and I felt that the acting performances were OK but nothing special. It was neat to note that the actress who portrayed Beth, Brittania Nicol, not only performed all of her songs in the film but came without any previous acting experience. She was not great, but with the film’s lack of resources and $7,000,000 budget (although good horror films are being made for less these days) I really did not expect to see great acting performances and nor did I expect to see Christopher Lee in a small role. Hardy does a decent job of creating tension and executing the horror but as I mentioned earlier the story really held back the final sequence and we did not actually “see” much horror. I suppose Hardy did what he could with the story he wrote for himself, but with such weak horror and very little to visually bring on tension I felt that Hardy’s direction was much like his story – good but it failed when it mattered most.

Overall, The Wicker Tree is positive at times but ultimately fails the viewer with its weak climax that should have been much more effective. The story is still an interesting one and is unique for this day, but in the end I’d skip this if I were you.

Rating: 5/10

…Additional Stills…

(some images are NSFW)

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