The second night of Broadway Cinema’s annual Mayhem Festival featured a special screening of a new addition to a British cinema legacy. It’s been just under 40 years since The Wicker Man was made (no, not the Nicolas Cage one), and now creator Robin Hardy has given us a follow up, The Wicker Tree. More of a companion piece than a sequel or remake this was a very interesting film for a number of reasons.
In the original, the premise was that Edward Woodward’s virginal, devout Christian policeman travelled from mainland Scotland to a remote island off the coast to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. And ultimately finds more than he bargained for in the island’s isolated community of sexually charged pagans. The follow up’s premise is similar to an extent. This time our unwitting Christians are two evangelical Texans, a country n’ western, gospel popstar and her cowboy fiancée. They travel to Tressock, Scotland to ‘save’ the disillusioned heathens who’ve ‘forgotten about Jesus’. Suffice to say they encounter an isolated community of sexually charged pagans and get more than they bargained for.
As with the Festival’s first night screening of The Awakening, the writer-director of the featured film (Hardy) was present to both introduce the film and indulge our thoughts after it’d finished. Before the film began, Hardy briefly and very wittily told us of his American adventure years ago, distributing The Wicker Man. Working his way across the US from west to east with (the now of course, Sir) Christopher Lee. During which time a critic described The Wicker Man as ‘the Citizen Kane of horror movies’. Hardy was indeed very pleased with the Citizen Kane part, but rather confused by the horror movie part. “I didn’t realise I’d made a horror film”, he told us. He then went on to describe how the 2006, Neil La Bute directed remake of The Wicker Man in fact informed many of his thematic and directorial choices in The Wicker Tree, noting that “they took out all the jokes and all the songs… so I wanted to prove that they could work within the genre again”. His final, wry note before the film began was “it’s ok to laugh”.
The Wicker Tree then, is ultimately a black comedy. The horror elements of the film pick up towards then very end much as they did in The Wicker Man. However, I found that this approach, whilst often rendering some passably amusing scenes, didn’t work as the clues and knowing jokes about what was to come just didn’t have the same effect as they did in the original because of course, we all knew where it was going. What was also lacking was the sense of impending doom and the constant paranoia that defined the original. Those senses also made the original’s finale both terrifying and shocking, but as they’re absent in The Wicker Tree the film simply never gets scary, its was just simply a bit flat. That’s not to say that the film isn’t watchable, for it certainly does take a different and varied look at the themes explored in the original. The cast also is full of delightful turns by various actors; Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett are often hilarious, but only as the butt of jokes, as the completely witless Americans; Graham (soon to be a Dwarf in The Hobbit) McTavish relishes in the part of Sir Lachlan Morrison, spriritual sucessor to Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle from the original; and Lee himself puts in a brief, obligatory cameo. I’d wager not many critics would go as far to say that this film taints the reputation of its predecessor, but simply say that perhaps it didn’t need to be made in the first place.
Whatever people may say, Robin Hardy very kindly informed his audience at Broadway that we can expect a third addition to the Wicker legacy, alluding to three elements the new film might contain: one, that the idea of appeasing the Gods will be turned on its head as people look to take revenge on their unforgiving deities; two, that the characters of Wagner’s Ring Cycle will be a major influence; and three, that the film will be shot in Iceland. The Wicker Volcano, anyone?
Mayhem Horror Festival continues until Monday 31st October, for all information please visit: