CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE WICKER TREE (2010)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares and Jenny Orosel
(THE SCENE: A castle in rural Scotland. L.L. SOARES and JENNY OROSEL stand in front of group of locals. LS is wearing jeans, a jean jacket and a cowboy hat and JO is wearing a colorful May Queen’s dress)
LS: Howdy folks. So I guess we’re here to review the movie, THE WICKER TREE (2010).
JO: (smiles) Aye, we are.
LS: Well, let’s not keep these people waiting much longer. Why don’t you tell these fine folks a little about the movie.
JO: There was a chunk of time in the 60s and 70s where British horror was like the perfect date—it didn’t take itself seriously and only wanted to show you a good time, with a little bit of naughtiness thrown in here and there. The Hammer studios were masters of this genre, with Amicus tagging closely behind, and this era brought us the wickedly fun THE WICKER MAN (1973), a tale of Paganism on a remote Scottish island. Now, almost forty years later, director Robin Hardy returns to that lovely heathen isle with THE WICKER TREE (2010), with all the affection for pure entertainment he carried in his heart during the original.
LS: There has been talk of a sequel for years now. Seeing THE WICKER TREE, I was just glad that this movie finally got made. Robin Hardy based it on his novel “Cowboys for Christ” (which was the original name of this movie). Hardy directed the original film, too, which was “inspired” by the novel “Ritual” by David Pinner, and Anthony Shaffer wrote the screenplay for WICKER MAN.
JO: THE WICKER TREE opens with dancing shirtless men that look straight out of a party at the Burning Man festival.
LS: How apt!
JO: Then we cut to a small Texas church, and the caricatures begin. Folding chairs are filled with jean-clad, cowboy-hat-wearing folks about to send off two missionaries, country singer Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) and her boyfriend Steve (Henry Garrett), to Scotland where “they don’t even believe in angels!” Or chastity, as is later brought up. So we start with two people totally unaware that, in fact, Scotland is a predominately Christian nation. Their enthusiasm and ignorance might not serve them well for the rest of the movie, but it will serve the plot well.
LS: Caricatures is right. They’re pretty goofy characters. And there weren’t many instances when they seemed like real people to me. Although Beth does kind of redeem herself by the end.
JO: When they first arrive in Scotland, Beth performs for sold-out houses.
LS: Yeah, Beth is a singer back in the States whose career is just starting to take off. I thought it was odd that someone who is just on the cusp of becoming a star would suddenly leave the country to perform missionary work. Then we find out that this isn’t her first time in the spotlight.
JO: Yes, a local reporter uncovers her previous career as a secular country-western singer whose biggest hit was “Trailer Trash Slut.” (subtlety is not this movie’s strongest point). She and Steve retreat to a small village off the coast, lured by the notion that, although not Christians themselves, the villagers will be open to the messages of Jesus and chastity.
LS: The “Trailer Trash Slut” video is actually pretty funny. But another big reason why Beth and Steve head to the country is that, when they going knocking on doors in the more “citified” parts of Scotland, all they get is doors slammed in their faces. The couple who actually hosted their visit, Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish) and his wife Delia (Jacqueline Leonard), suggest they might have more luck in the country, and bring them out to an island where the Morrisons pretty much own everything.
JO: I can’t imagine the experience of watching THE WICKER TREE without having any knowledge of THE WICKER MAN. Part of the suspense for the next forty-five minutes is knowing what happened in the first movie, and knowing what the villagers like to do to Christian outsiders. During this time we get to know the villagers, we find out that due to a nuclear accident, the men of the island are sterile and we see Steve fail at his chastity vows the moment he’s faced with a beautiful woman named Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks – what a name!) bathing in the nude in the local pond (after first noticing her horse. Having lived in Dallas for the past four years, I can say that is the most realistically Texas part of the movie).
LS: So much for Steve’s purity ring!
(A MAN in the crowd before them stands up)
MAN: And when will we be eating the haggis!
LS: What are you talking about?
MAN: The haggis, man! I’ve got me a mighty hunger, don’t ye?
LS: I don’t think I’ll be eating any haggis. That stuff sounds gross.
MAN: How dare ye insult the official food of Scotland! Off with his head I say!
(The rest of the crowd bursts with noise and the people argue)
JO: Sit down, sit down. We’re not done with our review yet. Don’t you want to see where this goes?
MAN: I suppose so. (he sits back down and the crowd grows quiet again)
JO: The first part of THE WICKER TREE was rather unexciting, but the actors made it interesting to watch, and knowing what happens in the WICKER world, the tension built. Plus, Christopher Lee made a cameo and he’s like bacon—everything is better with Christopher Lee.
LS: I didn’t find the first part of the movie that unexciting. I thought it was pretty watchable, actually. And yes, if you didn’t see the original WICKER MAN, then you won’t fully appreciate this one. You don’t have to see the first one to understand THE WICKER TREE – it is completely self-contained – but if you saw the first movie, there’s a different level of suspense throughout, as you anticipate what is going to happen to these two naïve Americans.
As for Christopher Lee, it’s nice to see him here, especially since he played the pivotal role of Lord Summerisle in the original movie. But it’s definitely a case of “blink and you’ll miss him.” Lee is only in one short scene, (the credits call his role simply “Old Man”) and it’s a flashback, so don’t turn this one on expecting to see Lee in a major role here. I know he’s pretty old and not as active as he once was, but I was still disappointed he didn’t play a bigger part in THE WICKER TREE.
JO: During the last half hour, it suddenly turns into a horror movie. Our missionaries meet with their inevitable fates. Steve’s was especially shocking, both in what they do to him and the style in which they filmed it. For that brief sequence the movie hovered somewhere between 28 DAYS LATER (2002) and HOSTEL (2005). It definitely jarred me out of the movie for a little while. I’m still not sure if that was a good thing or not.
LS: Oh, I thought it was definitely a good thing. The movie is pretty much all leading up to that part, and you want it to have some impact – and it does. By the way, the way the pagans get the Christian missionaries to take part in their annual festivities is to make Beth their May Queen, for the feast of May Day, the rite of spring. She gets to wear a fancy gown and everything. And Steve gets the symbolic role as her “Laddie.” What exactly he has to do as the Laddie is explained as the movie goes on, culminating in the jarring scene Jenny mentioned.
JO: Once we return to Beth’s plight, the movie goes back into fun mode. In fact, the end shot looked straight out of some of the best Hammer moments.
LS: Yeah, the last half hour or so of this movie is the best part of it. But the very end seemed a bit rushed – we’re treated to several short scenes and are left to make our own deductions. I know it was the case where the viewer has to fill in the blanks themselves, but it would have been nice to get a little more information. Of course, I can’t explain that further, since I don’t want to give anything away.
JO: THE WICKER TREE is not without its faults. As I mentioned earlier, it is far from subtle. The characters tend to be over-the-top stereotypes, from Steve’s ever-present cowboy hat to the gratuitous kilt usage. The gags are broad and blatant. Other than the level of horror in Steve’s demise, there are no surprises. But rather than try to hide its flaws (think TROLL 2 (1990)), director Hardy revels in them. It fully embraces the campiness it was destined to have. As long as you realize going into it that THE WICKER TREE is more humor than horror, you can have as much fun watching this little flick as they seemed to have while making it.
LS: Here is where I kind of disagree with you. I don’t think THE WICKER TREE needed to embrace a campiness at all. The original WICKER MAN played it completely straight and serious and the ending was all the more powerful for that. This time around, Hardy makes THE WICKER TREE so silly in spots that the movie does come off as a comedy for most of its running time. Making fun of the dumb missionaries who think they’re there to do God’s work. But I thought this was the completely wrong tone for a sequel. There was no reason why THE WICKER TREE couldn’t be as serious as its predecessor, without the broad stereotypes and the inside jokes and the winks to the audience. The only scenes I really liked were when the movie stopped playing around and got down and dirty. It’s almost like Hardy was trying to make a parody of his original movie at times, and I just don’t understand why.
(Another man jumps up. This one is holding out his arm upon which sits a raven)
LS: Oh no, it’s that annoying guy Beame from the movie! He’s always carrying around that raven and he’s always talking in rhymes.
BEAME: Ye’re right that Beame be’s my name, and that I stand here so. But bored of your review I very am, and I suggest you go!
LS: Get bent! We’re finishing this.
JO: Yeah! Give us a chance, won’t you.
BEAME: I shall hold my tongue for a minute more. But then I’ll be compelled to show you the door.
LS: Sit down, you village idiot!
(BEAME sits down)
LS: Where was I?
Oh yes. THE WICKER MAN is a genuine classic, and that’s mainly because of its power to surprise you. There really aren’t any surprises in THE WICKER TREE. You know something bad is going to happen to these two bumpkins, and it’s just a matter of how. If Hardy wanted to be truly subversive, he would have given us a twist we didn’t see coming, and completely surprise us in a totally new way. I mean, he’s had 40 years to come up with something fresh!
JO: That makes sense, but I can also see where Hardy was coming from. The big reveal was such an integral part of the original, and he probably figured audiences wouldn’t fall for it a second time, and tried for something completely different. I’ve seen a lot of people angry at the tone of this one because they were expecting THE WICKER MAN again. Perhaps if he’d stuck with the COWBOYS FOR CHRIST title, it would have gone off better.
COWBOYS FOR CHRIST was the original title of THE WICKER TREE.
LS: Maybe you’re right. But I think THE WICKER TREE was a missed opportunity. Robin Hardy had a chance to make a movie every bit as memorable as THE WICKER MAN, and instead he gave us something that was more of a light comedy in comparison. I was disappointed.
(FIRST MAN jumps up again)
MAN: What are ye wearing pants for! Here in bonny ol’ Scotland, men wear kilts! Get a kilt on ye, I say!
LS: We’re in the middle of a review here. Stop interrupting, please. Besides, I’m not interested in wearing one of those funny skirts.
MAN: A funny skirt? Ye call a kilt a “funny skirt?” HOW DARE you insult the official garb of the Scotsmen! Off with his head, I say!
(Rest of the audience begins arguing again)
JO: Please, please, let us finish. There is no reason to be rude.
MAN: Okay, I’ll let it go now, for your sake, lassie. But there is only so much a Scotsman can tolerate!
(MAN sits back down)
I guess we should also mention that THE WICKER TREE is not really a sequel at all. It’s kind of a “reimagining,” since it involves completely different characters and a completely different outcome. It simply takes the basic premise of an unsuspecting “innocent” finding themselves among a group of pagans with a hidden agenda, and does a variation on that theme. And THE WICKER TREE is in no way even close to being the movie THE WICKER MAN was.
If anything, I found another recent British movie, KILL LIST, to be more in the spirit of the original WICKER MAN, in the way it sets up a story to shock us with a completely unexpected ending. And it plays it completely for chills. KILL LIST is a totally different movie, but it sets out to jar us in a way similar to the way THE WICKER MAN did, and THE WICKER TREE doesn’t even come close to doing that.
JO: Well, I really enjoyed THE WICKER TREE for what it was. I give it three bloody knives.
LS: I didn’t hate it, and it was a fun flick, but it wasn’t the movie I was hoping for when I heard they were making a sequel to THE WICKER MAN. I wish they’d gone the serious route. I wanted a good meal, and they gave me a snack. I give it two bloody knives.
(The crowd gathered before them claps. LS and JO bow.)
(MAN jumps up again)
MAN: Are ye finished, finally?
LS: Yeah, yeah, we’re finished.
MAN: Well, goodie for ye. Ye go around spouting on about bloody knives. Well then, we’ll very well give ‘em to ye!
(Everyone in the crowd is now holding either a knife or a hatchet. They proceed to chase LS and JO around the castle in fast motion, as the “Benny Hill” theme plays)
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares and Jenny Orosel
L.L. Soares gives THE WICKER TREE ~ two bloody knives!
Jenny Orosel gives THE WICKER TREE ~three bloody knives.