THE WICKER TREE
Whether The Wicker Tree is a sequel, a prequel, or a 'reimagining' of The Wicker Man (which itself got the remake treatment) depends on where you stand in regards to The Wicker Man itself. If you've never seen it, it might make you think it's a prequel. If you do know 'the Citizen Kane of horror', then you might think The Wicker Tree is a sad sight, a poor imitation of The Wicker Man that besmirches on its legacy.
Beth Boothby (Britannia Nicol) is a rising country story, now a devout believer, who is sent to Scotland to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those heathen Celts. Going with her is her chaste love, country hick Steve (Henry Garrett), for a two-year missions trip (which is more Mormon than evangelical, but I digress). They are hard-core: complete with Chastity Rings (which I know as 'Promise' rings) to signify their purity and virginity until their wedding day.
In Scotland, our young, virginal, devout couple are being set up by Lord Lachlan and Lady Delia Morrison (Graham McTavish and Jacqeline Leonard). They are, in their words, "perfect" for their needs...whatever they may be. They do not get a warm reception in the large city, but among the lochs, the Morrisons welcome them. In fact, they are to be their special guests...
In this village, we have Detective Orlando (Alessandro Conetta), who is schuttping Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks), the Morrison's groomswoman. In this rustic village, all sorts of strange goings on occur. Lolly bathes openly in the nude in the pool of the local goddess Sulis and makes quick work of Steve, deflowering him with mutual delight.
Lolly is desperate to have a child, but cannot. Unbeknown to her (and I figure the rest of the population) an accident at a nuclear plant has left the women infertile. Still, there is cause for celebration: Bethany has accepted to being the May Queen with Steve as the Laddie of the Festival. Steve wants out of the preaching business, having fallen so hard into temptation and not wanting to hurt Bethany.
While Lolly is all but raping Orlando, he is pumping her (pun intended) for information about some cult activities: information she won't give until she receives endless amounts of orgasms. Now, we at last have the May Day celebration. Steve as the Laddie is chased like a fox with him thinking its a race to make it to the castle without getting captured. Bethany, for her part, is prepared like a goose for some rite. At long last, the village of Tressock has the perfect sacrifices to make the women fruitful again. We end The Wicker Tree with Lolly having her longed-for child and the hope of finding more.
While watching, I couldn't shake the sense that writer/director Tom Hardy has nothing but contempt for evangelicals (well, in fairness, contempt for the audience but we'll get back to that). Perhaps it is because I've been around them, know them, on occasion AM one of them, but the Christians I know are nowhere near as stupid and unsophisticated as Steve and Bethany are.
Our couple does not appear to be aware of anything really, and while one can forgive Americans not knowing the history of May Day pagan rites, but our heroes seem simply ignorant about anything (even apparently, how to turn off televisions, something Bethany was unable to do after watching a report that included her racier pre-salvation material). In their minds, the Scots not only have not heard of Christ, but also think the Scots can relate only to Rob Roy, Braveheart, and 'the great Mr. Bell' of telephone fame.
It isn't just that. It's that all the villagers speak to Beth and Steve about their faith with barely concealed contempt for the aspects of Christianity: the virgin birth, the destruction of all non-believers. Their behavior is one where they are so brazen about finding Christian theology so foolish as compared to worship of Sullis--in short, paganism is more rational than Christianity. One can believe whatever one wants, but when one sees how hostile the villagers are to the missionaries, one wonders how stupid Bethany and Steve must be to not notice it.
The big problem in The Wicker Tree is that everything is so obvious. I hate comparing films, even remakes with originals, but what makes The Wicker Man so brilliant and shocking (even after repeated viewings) is that the final twist is both logical and stunning because it is so unexpected. Everything that built up to that moment works both in the story we're being led to believe we're being told and to where the film ultimately ends. In The Wicker Tree, it's pretty clear straight from the beginning that there are ulterior motives and that everyone is in on it. There's no mystery to anything, and thus, no real fear for our dimwitted duo.
Furthermore, the film doesn't make any sense. It's obvious that Sir Lachlan knows that the reason for the the infertility in Tressack is because of his factory, so why does he bother with this pretense of the sacrifice when he knows it will not work? The subplot of Detective Orlando (who, except for his Italian grandfather is as Scottish as anyone) is totally irrelevant since the character served no purpose except to give Honeysuckle Weeks a couple of good sex scenes (one with English subtitles).
As a side note, I figure that Honeysuckle Weeks would make a brilliant Bond Girl name because it just sounds so flat-out curious. She is having a lark playing the town nympho, but a late turn to make her sympathetic not only goes wrong but has no basis for it.
The acting is some of the most idiotic I've come across in a long time. Nicol is so flat and out-of-it as Bethany, never shifting in her one-note performance. Likewise, Garrett's hick on a rampage just seemed so exaggerated as the cowboy for Christ. McTavish perhaps was told to overcompensate by overacting, trying so hard to be menacing when it just came off as silly. The same goes for Leonard's Lady Delia, or for David Plummer's crazy-man Jack routine.
Conetta's Scots-Italian detective has no reason for being there save to give Lolly some jollies. What he is trying to do in the village no one knows.
It might be that Hardy's screenplay gave no one anything to work with. It's a clunky story that tries so hard to bring menace with its crows, its crazy men spouting gibberish, and the literal "bird's eye view" which is not only bizarre but distracting.
It just seems that nearly everything goes wrong with the film. John Scott's score is almost comical in its efforts to build suspense. The Wicker Tree is also saddled with hopeless silly dialogue, such as "Where is my bowl of eyes?", delivered in a way that is more suited for a comedy routine than a suspense film. When the villagers strip off and sing There Is Power In the Blood before coming upon Steve, one is close to breaking out into laughter than into horror.
There are some good and clever moments, such as when Steve uses playing cards as witnessing tools (for those who don't speak Christianese, 'witnessing' is whenever one talks about Jesus in order to share the message of salvation). Allow me a digression. Steve says he doesn't play cards anymore after he got saved (Christianese for becoming a Christian), but I know several Christians who gamble. It is up to the individual whether he/she believes gambling is sinful or a problem enough to be morally wrong, but I do wonder whether Hardy actually bothered to find out anything about evangelicals.
It is also nice to see Christopher Lee in just about anything, even if it a cameo that could easily be cut without affecting the flow.
However, The Wicker Tree is a lousy film and a terrible disservice to those who love and admire The Wicker Man (in case it isn't obvious, I'm referring to the 1974 original, not the 2006 remake--another ghastly film). This is one tree that needs to be cut down for its (and the audience's) own good.