Joe’s Blog

The Wicker Tree (2010)

October 30, 2012 1:29 am

Wicker Tree

Some films (mainly horror films) are described as ‘cursed’. It’s quite easy to acquire the reputation (a death here, a fire on set there), and producers are loathe to disassociate themselves from the claims, as it can prove fruitful at the box office. In the end no film which makes as much money as The Exorcist or The Omen can truly be described as cursed.

One film that can possibly lay claim to being cursed is The Wicker Man. It’s not cursed in the sense that strange happenings befell the making, but based more on what happened to it afterwards. Abandoned by a distributor who didn’t realise the kind of film they were getting, they removed almost half an hour from the negative which, allegedly, ended up in landfill under the M3; the remnants of the original wicker man were accidentally burned to the ground; it was the subject of a legendarily bad Hollywood remake; and now the final insult, a 40-years-in-the-making sequel, which gets everything so wrong, I found myself longing for Nicolas Cage in his bear suit to come running over the hills shrieking “How’d it get burned? How’d it get burned?”.

I take no pleasure in running down a low budget British film, particularly one which has been a labour of love for writer-director Robin Hardy for so long. But, it’s just so awful, I can’t NOT lay into it.

Things begin badly, as we meet our protagonists, a pair of dim, born-again, god-fearing, apple-pie scoffing, abstinent yanks (a female singer and a cowboy (!)) who for some reason have decided to go to Scotchland to spread the good word to those heathen Jocks who have forgotten about God. Sadly we don’t see them getting chased by pitbulls and shirt-less fat dole-scum on a rough Glasgow estate. Instead they rock up on a rather nice looking street, where everyone very politely shakes their head and mimes the word “no”, before a Lord of the Manor says to come to his place for a bit so they can experience their village’s May Day celebrations, and, hey, maybe take part too.

Brokeback Molehill

The village of Tassock is no Summerisle. It’s a modern-ish village, on the Scottish-English border, rather than an isolated, Hebridean island. It’s even got its own nuclear power station owned by the Lord Morrison. he even describes himself as being like Monty Burns from The Simpsons. But it seems whilst the power station may keep the economy of the village running smoothly, but it’s also responsible for making all the men infertile, so Morrison has persuaded them that the May Day celebrations every year are a chance for them to find a man (“a laddie”) who can reinvigorate the juices and get all the women pregnant again. This mainly involves one woman, Lolly, sleeping with EVERY SINGLE man who comes to town.

How will she manage this with chaste, loyal Steve from the good ol’ US of A. yes, ma’am? Well, she manages it quite easily by standing in a freezing river with her tits out.

This is nowhere near as sexy as it looks

Beth, the singer, meanwhile, is having her own doubts, after being reminded of her trailer trash image past (a hilarious pop video shows her in a bar dancing with two hideous men; it looks more like the opening scene of a porn movie than a pop video) and being asked awkward questions about the rapture by Lady Morrison (“Do you think it’s right that innocent babies and children should die?” “Well, if that’s what it says in the bible!” is her wide-eyed and thick response, before shifting in her seat like she’s got an itchy bumhole).

All this stuff takes up an hour of screen time: glances are exchanged; dresses are stitched; dancing is…er danced. It’s all very ominous and a sense of foreboding hangs in the air. Except, that is, if you’ve seen The Wicker Man, where all this stuff creeps up on you and gets under your skin. Here, it sits in your lap, tugging at your sleeve.

Apparently, Hardy meant this to be a black comedy. Well, he says that NOW. The religious intolerance of Howey (a sympathetic figure despite his bigotry) in the original is replaced by cardboard cutout caricatures of that specifically American breed of Christian fundamentalism. You know the gruesome twosome are not far from waving ‘God Hates Fags’ placards or firebombing abortion clinics. How can they be when they think it’s right for children to die because “that’s what the bible says”?

But, they are so cliched, and so appallingly portrayed by the actors, that they generate no sympathy whatsoever. You just want to see them die. And die horribly.

The villagers aren’t much better. Lord Morrison is, of course, revealed to be a huge hypocrite, using the villagers faith in Celtic mythology to… well, I’m not quite sure. There is a scene when he discusses their stupidity in blindly following his lead, but I don’t think we find out why he’s doing it. But then again, he may just be doing it for giggles, because this lot are a right bunch of idiots. They are not odd-looking with a hint of menace. These are just freaks, at least the ones we meet are. The budget only stretches to us getting to know about four people, but come the climax, there’s a whole hillside full of them, mostly wandering around in g-strings and painted faces.

Considering how monumentally cheap it all looks, I was astonished to find this cost almost $8 million. It’s difficult to know where that money went.

It certainly didn’t go on the cast which includes “Man Who Provides Russian Voices for Call of Duty Videogames”,  “Her That Was In Eastenders For A  Bit” and assorted Casualty and The Bill bit players.

A hilarious sign of the cost cutting occurs early on when one of Beth’s singing performances in a church is greeted by a library sound effect of a vast hall of applauding noise, but it’s accompanied by a shot of just five people in evening wear clapping.

One sequence, the best in the film, briefly gives us a glimpse of some spending, when Steve is pursued across some lovely Scottish landscapes, in the “Laddie Hunt”, a kind of human fox hunt. It’s reasonably exciting, and well-shot. Sadly it’s short-lived.

As a final indignity, the film ropes in Lord Summerisle himself, Christopher Lee, for a pointless, though no doubt box-office friendly, flashback cameo as Lord Morrison’s dead dad. He is not playing Lord Summerisle.

Sir Should-Not-Be-Appearing-In-This-Film

And what of The Wicker Tree itself? Well, your guess is as good as mine. We’re led to believe it is to be the centre-piece of the May Day celebration. It’s prepped for burning, presumably, a sacrifice of some sort. But other fates await the un-dynnamic duo of Americans, so who is it for?

The Wicker Tree burns, while Beth tries to work out why

Hardy has been keen to point out that The Wicker Tree is not meant to be taken as a remake, or even a sequel. So why call it The Wicker Tree then? You can’t give the film that title and then not expect them to make comparisons to it. It’s like the Hollywood remakes who claim “No, it’s not a remake, it’s a new story taking ideas from the original”. Well don’t give it the same name then!!! (The Thing, I’m looking at you…) If it’s not meant to be a sequel, then it should have stuck with one of its rejected titles. I quite like Cowboys for Christ. That at least would have primed the audience for a black comedy rather than The Wicker Tree, which primes them for a bloody sequel, and a film in a similar vein.

The Wicker Tree is appalling film-making on almost every level. In some ways it does more damage to The Wicker Man than Neil LaBute’s remake, because it was made by Robin Hardy. Had it been made by anyone else, it could have been dismissed as a money-grabbing, soul-less attempt to milk ‘the Wicker brand’. As it stands, it’s a sad, desperate attempt to recapture the magic of a wonderful piece of cinema, and it finally succumbs to the Wicker Man Curse.

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