Not good enough to be scary and not bad enough to be good.
Robin Hardy’s “Wicker Tree” is framed as a companion piece to his earlier “Wicker man.” Unfortunately, the two films have little in common beneath the superficial. The original 1973 cult thriller was directed by Hardy, but the screenplay was written by Anthony Shaffer and based on a novel by David Pinner.The latter film is directed and written by Hardy. Whatever the reason, “Wicker Tree” is barely a shadow of “Wicker Man.”
Viewers will make the mistake of thinking the film is going to be either a slasher film or a campy horror flick. The problem is that it turns out to be neither. It is not quite funny enough to be campy (although it comes close in places) and it is not quite sexy or gory enough to make the grade as slasher.
The viewer is caught in the middle trying to go along with the joke of the cowboy evangelist is some places and the not-very-sexy sexpot evangelist in others.
There was the potential for great things here. The cowboy and the white trash beauty queen could have been really twisted. Even better, they could have committed some definitive crime before coming to the remote Scottish village of Tressock (think Trossachs) for the annual festival.
As in “Wicker Man” the townsfolk have an agenda all their own that features Christians, just as did the townsfolk on the remote Scottish Island in “Man.” Although most films have become more liberal and outrageous in the last forty years, this remake became tamer. It is less than tame, it is borderline PG compared to the naked writhing, moaning and outrageous group sex in the original “Wicker man.”
Not that it takes these things to make a great cult horror film but in developing a remake or sequel one must expand on the idea. This film is not an expansion on the original, it is a contraction, or perhaps, almost, an apology.
It is as if Hardy (both director and writer for this one) was apologizing for the borderline pole dance routines in the original by making the two leads Mouseketeer equivalents of current porn stars. The current porn stars are, in fact, funny in and of themselves. It is not necessary to parody them too much.
Hardy grabbed Sir Christopher Lee, who played Lord Summerisle in the original film, to be the evil old man in this film. That was a clever move except for the fact that nobody in any audience will be able to care less. The two characters have nothing in common so the revisiting is just another inside joke, lost on the audience. People have moved on since the original film, especially young viewers who tend to make up horror film audiences.
In the original, the Dudley Doright police Sergeant Howie shows up on the island fairly erupting with righteous political/religious dogma. As it turns out, he was tricked into coming to the island. The fool-king played right into the hands of the pagan peasants. Such a perfect turnabout.
In “Wicker Tree” the character development for missionaries Beth (Brittania Nicol) and Steve (Henry Garrett) is so weak that we do not care much one way or the other what happens to them. They do not come to the pagan village full of pride and crying to be deflated. They come as two mixed up people who accidentally fall into something. Instead of tragic anti-heroes they are tourists in a car crash.
To be sure, the huge supporting cast is there, with all of the requisite animal heads. That is good creepy stuff, but it is not nearly as creepy the second time around, and it is not as creepy as a lot of mise-en-scène that is standard procedure for even modest horror films today.
The scenery is perhaps a little too good, lacking the flat, depressing, washed out effect of the less sophisticated film stock and lighting used in the original. After all, the background is supposed to be the dampest, foggiest and cloudiest place in the world. It is supposed to the flat grey sky with drizzle on the morning of the “Mutiny on the Bounty” hangings, not “Umbrellas in Cherbourg.”
Hardy would have made a much better film if he had stuck to horror all the way through and let the audience laugh when things become too outrageous. In trying to mellow the tone, the effect was lost. This is one of those films destined for the purgatory of the middle ground of horror films. Not good enough to be scary and not bad enough to be good.
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Directed by: Robin Hardy
Written by: Robin Hardy (book and screenplay)
Starring: Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett and Graham McTavish
Release Date: January 27, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for sexuality, nudity and violence
Running Time: 90 Minutes