MACABRE MOVIES: THE WICKER TREE (2012)

THE WICKER TREE (2012)

Starring Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett and Graham McTavish

Written and directed by Robin Hardy

Anchor Bay Entertainment

 

The prospect of a new movie from The Wicker Man director Robin Hardy set in the same universe as that horror classic provoked mixed emotions when it was first announced under the title The Riding of the Laddie. The novel upon which Hardy has based his script, his own Cowboys for Christ, was plain awful, showing a lack of understanding of American culture and feeling very much like a pallid copy of its source material. Could the movie be substantially better?

Brittania Nicol as Beth Boothby

The second obstacle was what I had heard about its tone. Apparently The Wicker Tree was an odd mixture of comedy and drama, not horror, according to reports coming out of Montreal’s FanTasia film festival, where it premiered last summer. But with expectations duly put into check, I can report that The Wicker Tree is far more entertaining than I imagined and an honourable companion piece to its predecessor.

The film opens in Texas where we are introduced to our protagonists, country pop star-turned-evangelist Beth Boothby (Nicol) and her fiancé Steve (Garrett). Beth has given up her secular career to spread the Gospel, and her first assignment sees her and Steve posted to Scotland. The celibate sweethearts don’t find any takers for their door-to-door brand of evangelism in the city so are pleased to take up Sir Lachlan Morrison (McTavish) on his offer to come to his small community to preach the word. What Steve and Beth don’t know, though, is that the residents of Morrison’s village worship pagan gods, and they believe that the infertility that has plagued the village for years can be cured through a particular kind of sacrifice – a sacrifice which fans of The Wicker Man will see coming right off.

Graham McTavish as Sir Lachlan Morrison

First, the problems: newcomer Brittania Nicol may be able to sing (I’m not certain she provided her own vocals), but she cannot act so it’s not easy to empathize with her doomed fate. Secondly, Hardy’s understanding of American culture is just off. The music video we see from Beth’s Britney-meets-Taylor Swift pop career is just embarrassing, suitable for Beth’s discomfort with her own sexually-charged past perhaps but unwatchable.

But The Wicker Tree earns its right to its pedigree by paying respect to The Wicker Man’s key elements – a black sense of humour, a respect for pre-Christian paganism, and a playful and joyful approach to sex – and bringing those forward in a modern way.

As to the last of these, special praise must be showered upon the beautiful and adventurous Honeysuckle Weeks. As Morrison’s groom Lolly, Weeks (TV’s Foyle’s War) spends most of her screen-time unclothed, but it’s to her credit that we’re paying attention to her performance as much as anything else.

Honeysuckle Weeks (right) as Lolly

As for the much-ballyhooed cameo by Sir Christopher Lee, who, of course, played the enigmatic Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Tree, it does feel shoehorned into the narrative, although any Christopher Lee is better than no Christopher Lee.

Best of all, The Wicker Tree is simply fun. The cast attacks the material with gusto, and their enthusiasm makes for a great movie-going experience. Horror fans won’t find much fear here, but the Grand Guignol sense of humour should appeal, and Sulis knows that this Wicker Tree is far better than Nicolas Cage’s Wicker Man remake.

The Wicker Tree comes out on DVD and Blu-ray April 24.

 

Rating: 3.5/5

 

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