MFR Rating: ★ ★
In the discussion afterwards, director Robin Hardy comments his surprise that despite The Wicker Man’s undoubted popularity and influence, more films weren’t created in its similar blend of genre. He said he created The Wicker Tree partly as a way to remedy this gap in genre by creating a fusion of music, the occult, religion, sex and horror. The Wicker Tree shows why this fusion is so difficult.
The Wicker Treeis more a re-imagining than a remake or sequel to Hardy’s famous 1973 work. It uses many of the same themes but tries to play them out slightly differently. Necessary? Well, it’s certainly ambitious. Does it work? Not so much.
The film stars the lesser-known names of Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett as a young, born-again American couple locked in chastity and the film opens on the very good gag of them going on a mission from the States to convert the heathens of Scot-land. They find themselves in a small town that seems welcoming with its quintessential May Day traditions and the sharing of cultures that comes with it. Garrett’s character, Steve, encounters temptress Lolly (played by Honeysuckle Weeks, a woman unlikely to have had too many problems registering with Equity) and the themes of sex, birth and sacrifice provide the underlying antagonism for the film.
Before the film started Hardy told us ‘don’t be afraid to laugh’ as he mentions how The Wicker Man is so often pushed merely into the box of ‘horror’. The Wicker Tree has its moments of light comedy but a lot of the dialogue can also feel a bit drab. Crucially, the characters never feel like they have much direction or any real moment of catharsis. Hardy clearly has a lot he tries to pack into the film but ultimately it feels rather messy and the film’s real sacrifice lies in its creation of characters. The young couple are very difficult to empathize with and somehow feel dramatically distant. As a ‘re-imagining’ is does feel slighlty frustrating to have cameos from Wicker Man actors such as Christopher Lee appearing in a scene just for the sake of Christopher Lee appearing in a scene, even though he was initially supposed to have a much bigger role if it wasn’t for injury.
The Wicker Tree is certainly not a horror film and it does seem somewhat strange it was being shown at a horror festival. Sure, it has a climax ultimately not unlike what you might expect but for the most part it’s a dark comedy-drama. Robin Hardy afterwards explained the Scottish rituals and traditions that inspired his writing of the film and while this certainly added to my appreciation of the film, as a piece on its own its themes of creation and sacrifice unfortunately feel rather cold. A little more exposition would have gone a long way.
Still, despite the 40 year wait between the original and the follow-up work, Hardy (now into his 80s) is already planning a third installment to the ‘series’. It will be a fight-back against the Gods, Hardy hints. That, at least, sounds rather fun.