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The Wicker Tree

2010 | 96 min | R | 2.39:1

The Wicker Tree


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Theatrical release date

 27 January, 2012

Country of origin

 United Kingdom



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The Wicker Tree Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 4, 2012

Surprisingly, writer/director Robin Hardy didn’t pursue much work in the entertainment industry after the release of his 1973 cult classic, “The Wicker Man.” It makes sense that his return to the screen is a pseudo-sequel/remake/kissing cousin to his previous achievement, with “The Wicker Tree” looking to capture the same pagan terror, this time without Nicolas Cage and the damn bees of the goofball 2006 “Wicker Man” remake. Boldly developing a tone of high camp for this follow-up, Hardy looks to attack expectations by turning the premise into something silly, playing broadly to keep viewers off-guard. It doesn’t work in full, yet “The Wicker Tree” is an interesting failure, ultimately handcuffed by its low budget and thespian limitations.

A popular Christian singer with a deep love for Jesus, Texan Beth (an unconvincing Brittania Nicol) has been offered a chance to perform for a small village in Scotland, hoping to convert a community in the process. Keeping a tight bond of chastity with amorous cowboy boyfriend Steve (Henry Garrett), Beth is committed to religion, yet haunted by her past as a sexually explicit musical performer. Welcomed to the Scottish Lowlands by Sir Lachlan (Graham McTavish) and his wife Delia (Jacqueline Leonard), Beth and Steve are overwhelmed by the kindness of the village, encouraged to explore the area and greet the locals, with Steve responding in full to the temptations of Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks). Asked to join the upcoming May Day celebration, Beth and Steve find their roles as the Queen and her “Laddie” offers a finality they don’t immediately comprehend.

Although most of the production participants downplay the connections between “The Wicker Tree” and “The Wicker Man,” it’s fairly obvious Hardy is looking to reclaim a piece of past success, adapting his 2006 novel “Cowboys for Christ” for the big screen. “The Wicker Tree” is more of a loose remake or second pass at the premise of pagan exposure, this time executed with a pronounced wink by the filmmaker, who’s hunting for satire with his lead characters. Evangelical boobs from the sticks, Beth and Steve (permanently affixed to his cowboy hat) are stereotyped Americans, easily influenced by religion despite their human nature demanding attention. They’re cartoon figures dying to spread the word of God to Scottish heathens, killing the locals with kindness and naiveté, yet overwhelmed with the earthy appeal of the land and its inhabitants, lured into a plan for their demise without worldly awareness setting off intellectual alarms.

While “The Wicker Man” was one slow build-up to a gut-punch resolution of screaming sacrifice, “The Wicker Tree” keeps its malicious intentions known right from the start, revealing Sir Lachlan’s devious scheme in the opening act. That Beth and Steve are in Scotland to be served up to a pagan god isn’t the mystery of the film, in fact there’s no puzzle to the picture whatsoever. Hardy isn’t consumed with twists, instead leading with a semi-farcical tone where the performances are over-the-top and Sir Lachlan’s interests side more with environmental rape than striking spiritual fulfillment. Strangely, “The Wicker Tree” is a comedy, with Beth and Steve horny rubes blindly following a deity they barely understand, while the locals are eccentric characters raising pet ravens or, in the case of Lolly, in possession of irresistible sexual appeal, helping to keep the local law enforcement official in a state of orgasmic paralysis. Hardy leads with his commentary on the blinders of religion, but he’s not above a little silliness to derail the feature, offering groin trauma and dead cats to sway outsiders from taking the material seriously.

The askew approach of “The Wicker Tree” is admittedly curious, rendering the movie more dumbfounding than disastrous. The film doesn’t work, yet it makes an unusual effort, even working in a cameo by Christopher Lee (who played Lord Summerisle in the original) to help connect the two pictures. Why Hardy wanted to revisit this world of sacrifice and temptation is perplexing, but so is his approach to the material. By trying to recalibrate the spirit of “The Wicker Man” with this misguided feature, it seems he’s tarnished the legacy of his greatest achievement.

Starring: Graham McTavish, Honeysuckle Weeks, Brittania Nicol, Christopher Lee
Director: Robin Hardy

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The Wicker Tree 9 Jan 22, 2012

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