The Wicker Tree (2010)
(15) Running time: 93 minutes
Director: Robin Hardy
Writer: Robin Hardy
Starring: Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett, Graham McTavish, Honeysuckle Weeks
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
After nearly forty years of waiting, Robin Hardy finally unleashes his sequel to one of the finest horror film ever made. Based on his Cowboys For Christ novel, The Wicker Tree had a lot to live up to, and a huge number of fans to please. With today’s gore hungry horror crowd, and lovers of found footage everywhere, the question is, do fans really still care for pagan based horror films stripped back to basics? For me, personally, I would say yes, there is always room to for something a little different in horror, something unsettling and just not quite right. The Wicker Man pulled that off in ferocious style all those years ago, and the signs from the trailer and images lead me to believe The Wicker Tree would do the same. Sadly, it doesn’t.
However, the opening credits will lead you to believe that there is a real sinister film ahead, as eerie music plays and we get a brief but chilling slow motion glimpse at some Pagan’s dancing in the shadows. I was really excited here, and I was hoping Hardy was about to make good on his sequel. Sadly it goes wrong almost instantly after as we head to Texas and we meet Beth (Nicol) and Steve (Garrett). Both have past issues, both have found God and both want to share his love with everyone they can. We also quickly learn that both are sickly enthusiastic about what they do, to the point where you just want to punch them both in the face. Wearing silver rings to show off their love and their no sex before marriage rule, you could argue that Hardy’s intention was to make you hate them anyway. If that was his intention then he succeeded, a little too well. With their wide eyes and massive, face wide smiles, they are the ultimate irritation, and from this point on the film was lost for me. It was very very hard to care about this annoying couple, and they proceed to irritate once they arrive in Scotland. Once there, they are met with anything but friendliness, until Lord Lachlan Morrison (McTavish) and his wife Delia (Jacqueline Leonard) invite the couple to Tressock, the border fiefdom of Lord Lachlan.
Beth is a country singer who preaches religion in her music, a former trash singer, she has left her past behind and is regarded as a bit of a celebrity in Tressock. Loving all the attention, it is clear something sinister is about to go down as the Mayday celebrations draw near and the couple are split up. We briefly move in to more sinister territory as a superb camera shot of the dark underground passageways of Lachlan’s manor lead to a creepy image of one of his creepy enforcers. The camera expertly heads down the stairs, around corridors before revealing the enormous Scot carving up dinner. Shots like this prove Hardy still has the skills, and had The Wicker Tree had two different leading Christian characters, it just may have been bearable. Sadly though, the film does head into comical and just plain annoying and daft antics. A scene in a local pub where Steve preaches the ways of the Lord through his deck of cards is almost too uncomfortable to watch. He sits there, smiling with his bloody cowboy hat on (something which he never removes) and lays out his cards as he uses the numbers to tell a story. You really do worry for his safety, but the audacity of his preaching’s make you almost want to see bad things happen to him.
Things do start to make chilling sense as we learn that Lord Morrison’s nuclear power plant may have leaked poison into the water supply ten years ago causing impotence, and the Pagan’s offer up sacrifices to allow their small population to be fertile again. If you have seen the original Wicker Man, you can pretty much guess where this film is heading, and granted come the end there are some pretty impressive scenes, but it is getting there that is the issue. Steve is laughably seduced by the local temptress Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks) in the river, and Steve and Beth’s relationship is beginning to fall apart. Both are completely ignorant to the rather strange goings on around them, and come the final moments, you almost beg for them to get what they so stupidly deserved. Now, I don’t mean they deserve it because I am horrible, but they just go along with everything, never question anything and smile constantly, even when they argue it does not convince.
Now, for all the bad stuff involved in this film (most of it involving Beth and Steve), The Wicker Tree does have many good points and some very interesting moments of horror. Firstly, the setting is just gorgeous, and Hardy drifts his camera around as if you are living in a dream. He expertly captures the glorious looking countryside and emphasises every little detail to make you feel almost like you are right there in it. Some of his camera angles throughout the film will often surprise and delight. The cinematography could not be any better, and this superb use of scenery and camera work allow Hardy to create some truly unsettling scenes as the film heads towards its climax. Hardy has real talent, quality talent, which was sadly lost by some questionable acting and what feels like a rushed production at times. At times it feels like the director is putting his heart and soul into the film (some wonderful shots of Pagan’s dancing come the end), and then he lets it all down with embarrassing ideas like using a clearly fake dead cat in another scene.
The Wicker Tree is a mixed bag, at times incredibly flawed, at others full of absolute brilliance. There are images here that you will have never seen before, and that will haunt you for days after. The overall tone here is much darker than in The Wicker Man, but unfortunately this means the film loses its flamboyance and otherworldly creepiness it achieved so elegantly in the first film. For all that’s wrong here, you cannot deny the fact Hardy has a brilliant sense of how to tell a story, and his confidence in his storytelling shines through with precision and commitment. However, it is hard to get away from the fact The Wicker Tree is just not very good, and was certainly not worth waiting forty years for.