Thursday, May 24, 2012

Culture Shock 05.24.12: 'Wicker Man' followup is more of a straw man

The original 1973 version of "The Wicker Man" is a horror classic. The 2006 remake starring Nicolas Cage is an unintentionally hilarious diversion.

This scene is better without context.
Unfortunately, "The Wicker Tree" — director/writer Robin Hardy's completely unnecessary followup to the 1973 film, which he directed from Anthony Shaffer's screenplay — is neither.

It's neither good nor bad enough to be entertaining, and you find yourself wishing the inevitable and unsurprising conclusion would just hurry up and arrive already.

Not quite a sequel and not quite a remake either, "The Wicker Tree" tells basically the same story as "The Wicker Man," only with a much less interesting and far more grating cast of characters.

Speaking of whom, meet Beth and Steve (Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett). They're a young couple from Texas on a mission trip to bring Jesus and their contemporary Christian musical stylings to the poor lost souls of Scotland. Never mind that, last I heard, Scotland was a mostly Christian land. Nevertheless, as luck would have it, Beth and Steve have the good fortune to find one village where the locals all still worship the "old gods."

And by "good fortune" I mean horribly bad fortune.

Yet the locals seem strangely welcoming of the two Texans, even if they aren't the least bit receptive to their message, happy as these Scots are to remain in their blissful paganism.

Clearly, something sinister is afoot, what with village leader Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish) practically twisting his mustache at every turn. But our two young heroes, with their purity rings and pledges of chastity until marriage, are oblivious to it all.

They're dumber than a bag of rocks, and every time Steve grins, you just want to punch him in the face. (And, yes, he wears a cowboy hat everywhere. Even in church.) If you're looking for an unflattering caricature of Texans, Christians or kids who go to contemporary Christian concerts, this is it. Perhaps a better title for the film would have been "The Straw Man."

The pagans don't come out of this any better, especially Sir Lachlan, who turns out to be a cynical manipulator, exploiting his people's beliefs for his own benefit. It's the same one-dimensional religious baddie we've seen in a dozen other films, only this time he's a pagan.

If the message here is that all religion is bad, it would have been far more honest and effective at least to have characters who resemble human beings with genuine human beliefs. In the original "The Wicker Man," you can sympathize with Edward Woodward's upright but woefully naive Sgt. Howie. Beth and Steve, however, invite only ridicule.

And, let's face it, McTavish, in a role originally intended for Sir Christopher Lee (the original film's magnificent Lord Summerisle), is no Christopher Lee. (Who is?) Alas, Sir Christopher is here relegated to a brief and pointless flashback, which serves only to remind us that "The Wicker Tree" might possibly be watchable if Lee were in more of it.

Unfortunately, Lee, who turns 90 on Sunday, injured himself on the set of another movie and had to back out of the starring role.

But really, I'd settle for a deranged Nic Cage, running around in a bear costume, punching women in the face and screaming about bees.

It wouldn't be a good movie, but at least it wouldn't be boring.

Unlike the 2006 edition of "The Wicker Man," "The Wicker Tree" is sadly lacking in YouTube-friendly moments of absurdity. It just plods along, going exactly where the other two films went before, but taking a far less scenic route to get there.

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking about buying the Wicker Tree but stopped because I was afraid it would be exactly like you described.