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Simon Read [Film Festival 10.21.11] movie review horror

Year: 2010
Directors: Robin Hardy
Writers: Robin Hardy
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Projectcyclops
Rating: 7 out of 10

I’m just going to throw my hands up and admit that I absolutely love the original 1973 film of The Wicker Man, despite its faults it’s always been a real gem with Christopher Lee in awesome mode, Edward Woodward as a furious virginal policeman and an ending that’s simply lightening in a bottle. I never really followed director Robin Hardy’s later career and looking him up online it seems he left the business more or less, and that his new film is something of a return to the director’s chair. Is it any good? Well, yes it is. There’s a lot to recommend. However, this isn’t The Wicker Man, it’s a rather different approach altogether. Let’s call it a sister-film to the original.

We begin in Texas where beautiful evangelical singer Beth and her good natured but dim cowboy fiancé Steve are being thrown a goodbye party by their church before taking a tour of Scotland to bring some Faith to those heathens in Europe. Once they arrive in Edinburgh their hosts Sir Lachlan Morrison and his wife welcome them warmly. Beth gives a sell-out concert in the city, before being exposed as a reformed Spears-esque trailer trash singer by a local news report and having a bit of a tantrum as the television shows her singing “My Trailer Trash Love” on MTV. Distraught, she and Steve accept an invitation to Morrison’s border fiefdom of Tressock, where they’re assured of privacy and the opportunity to bring Jesus to the townsfolk. Tressock seems nice enough, although the locals are a trifle eccentric and there seems to be an alarming amount of pagan imagery on display. Beth and Steve find the population friendly though and she is even asked to be the annual May Queen during summer celebrations, with Steve taking part in a horse riding ritual named, ‘The riding of the Laddie.’ Do we think these are innocent traditions and party games, or something altogether more sinister? Well, if you’ve seen The Wicker Man…

The night before I saw Wicker Tree I watched The Wicker Man over a few drinks to familiarize myself with it once again. I’d forgotten quite how silly a lot of it is, and how much sex and nudity (or at least implied sex as it was the 70’s) and all around bawdy humor there is in amongst the genuine chills and just plain freakiness. From Lindsey Kemp’s campy barman to Britt Ekland’s naked body-double and awkwardly dubbed voice, to Christopher Lee’s charm offensive and Woodward’s puce facial expressions as he hears of girls learning about phallic symbols in primary school – it’s all rather absurd, but fun nonetheless. In Wicker Tree Hardy has kept this sense of fun and it works pretty well in evoking the older film, but keeping the story fresh enough to establish this as a film in its own right. Beth and Steve’s sense of awkwardness and pure, innocent worldview run parallel with Woodward’s confusion in the original film, and it’s a clever idea to bring two evangelical ‘true love waits’ characters from the new world into this Scots village of pagan sex-addicts and non-believers. I certainly applaud Hardy on coming up with an original idea with which to continue his story, although the film has one or two faults to pick over.

First of all, Hardy is not known as a brilliant or accomplished director (in his 80’s I might add) with Wicker Man as his only real contribution before now and as such the film does view like the work of someone a little ‘rusty.’ It’s based on Hardy’s own novel ‘Cowboys for Christ’ and went through several name changes, development problems and funding issues. While Wicker Man was a studio film and had backing from producers, Tree is an independent production and portions of it feel awkwardly placed, specifically a two-minute cameo from Christopher Lee which seems tacked-on as an afterthought.

Altogether it’s a much more sophisticated film than the first though, as Hardy uses RED cameras and far more modern and impressive special effects, but some parts just don’t seem to quite fit and it makes the overall story seem slightly uneven and unsure of itself. This is forgiven though, at least because of the sense of fun and the fact that the film’s heart is so very much in the right place throughout. So many modern horror films have forgotten the close link between fear and laugher and forget that there’s an audience who’ve paid to have a good time, and there’s plenty of genuinely funny and scary moments that prove Tree can stand on its own two legs quite admirably.

The performances are strong across the board, with the actors clearly enjoying themselves and the ludicrous plot elements. Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett as Beth and Steve hit all the right notes as the American tourists abroad and Graham McTavish is well suited to the role of the malevolent Lachlan Morrison, a role written for Christopher Lee who had to bow out due to injuries sustained on another film. (hence the hasty cameo I guess) Honeysuckle Weeks plays Morrison’s daughter Lolly, who’s basically sex mad, but has a good heart and is maybe the only member of the village to question her father’s ruthless plans. She plays the role well and supplies much of the saucy banter as she seduces any and all who cross her path. She also looks great on a horse.

I went in fairly skeptical but honestly felt pretty rewarded afterwards. If Wicker Man is an 8 then Tree would fall at about 7/10. Not perfect but a very brave, original and decent effort, and it certainly kicks the ass of the pathetic remake that I wasn’t supposed to mention. (Bees! Bearsuit! Bicycle!)

After the screening Robin Hardy came out for a Q&A and told the audience that he’s far from finished with the Wicker World, and plans on a third installment called, ‘The Wrath of the Gods’ which will deal with the very gods themselves getting their comeuppance in Iceland, and will “involve a large group of terrorists” and, “will play the same games as the first two films.” Mr. Hardy, bring it on!

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