A magnificent fusion of chilling horror, satirical humour, music and eroticism. The Wicker Tree is a cult masterpiece.
Robin Hardy’s long awaited directorial return, The Wicker Tree, is finally on its way after an incredibly turbulent production process. This “spiritual sequel” to Hardy’s 1973 masterpiece, The Wicker Man, explores similar themes to its predecessor but is not directly connected to it. It is simply a return to the genre created in The Wicker Man, an eccentric fusion of humour, eroticism, horror and music and is unlikely to be similar to anything you have seen in recent years. After numerous financial meltdowns, false starts and casting changes, this eagerly anticipated project finally got off the ground in 2008 and I am pleased to say it was worth the wait.
The Wicker Tree follows two young evangelist Americans – Beth (Brittania Nicol) and Steve (Henry Garrett), who set off to preach the word of God to the heathens of Scotland (Hardy’s tongue remains firmly planted in his cheek). Beth, a successful pop star turned gospel singer, and her Texan cowboy boyfriend, Steve and greeted by powerful Scottish couple, Sir Lachlan (Graham McTavish) and Delia Morrison (Jacqueline Leonard) upon their arrival. The evangelical pair are persuaded to come and preach in the Morrison’s home town of Tressock, where they are invited to take leading roles in the annual May Day celebrations – unbeknownst to Steve and Beth, these have sinister consequences.
Before viewing The Wicker Tree, you should be warned that this by no means the straight-forward horror that the trailer implicates. Hardy’s emphasis here is clearly set upon comedy and the satire of religious evangelism. Beth and Steve are two characters who know nothing of the word they preach and when faced with answering some of life’s most challenging moral dilemmas, they simply state “Well, if its in the Bible then it’s what we believe.” These characters shape their lives on this concept, placing their hope in a God that they believe will forgive their past mistakes, and it is this theme of misplaced hope that makes The Wicker Tree such an interesting watch. The pair’s beliefs are further rocked when they are presented with several temptations in the Pagan playground of Tressock, Steve lured away by lascivious temptress, Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Beth haunted by her racy pop star past, in the form of a frequently played track called, Trailer Trash Love.
Whilst Hardy does turn everything up to its hammiest, from the thick Texan accents to the pagan weirdness, it still does have several chilling moments. Whether the impending, brutal traditions of the Riding of the Laddie and the crowning of the May Queen, match the sheer terror of the burning Wicker Man, is up for debate but they certainly give it a run for its money.
As to be expected, The Wicker Tree’s soundtrack also impresses, featuring a beautiful combination of American gospel and Scottish folk, as well as some trashy country pop. Although it is unfortunate that there is not a Maypole or Tinker of Rye ballad in sight.
Brittania Nicol excels as Beth, showing off a genuinely beautiful voice and a clear acting talent. Beth is deeply flawed but Nicol plays her as such a sweet soul that one cannot help but get attached to the character, despite this. When Beth begins to suspect that she is in danger and confronts the villagers, Nicol is simply magnificent. The role of Steve is also particularly well cast, with Henry Garrett bringing a sense of likeability and humour to the role, as well as a convincing Texan drawl. The pair get the opportunity to show a vast range through the fish out of water elements of Hardy’s script, from a lighter comedic side to equally convincing dramatic aspects.
Being a fan of Hardy’s source novel, Cowboys For Christ, I did find that several interesting scenes and details had been left out. The Wicker Tree is by no means a long film, at only 92 minutes – it could have benefited by spending more time on the film’s final showdown, but given budget constraints this may not have been possible.
The Wicker Tree is truly a one of a kind cinematic experience. Like its thematic predecessor, The Wicker Man, it fuses humour, eroticism, music and horror, with utmost success. The horror comes second to these other aspects, however, with The Wicker Tree’s key focus being on its successful satire of religious ideology. Robin Hardy has presented us with a magnificent cinematic romp and one of the most entertaining pictures in recent years.