Directed by Robin Hardy
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
It’s certainly nothing new to point out that the original Wicker Man is one of the greatest films in the genre we all love. With its brilliant cast, intelligent script, and unconventional musical score, The Wicker Man is the high-water mark for smart, weighty horror films. So why is it, then, that everyone who has attempted to mine its rich ideas and offbeat atmosphere has failed so miserably? First, there was the atrocious Wicker Man remake, which looked fantastic on paper (Neil LaBute! Nicolas Cage! Ellen Burstyn!). And now, we have original Wicker Man director Robin Hardy going back to his own well with The Wicker Tree, and, sadly, finding it mostly dry.
The plot of The Wicker Tree will no doubt sound familiar to fans of the original film – devout Christian, or Christians in this case, find themselves to be fish out of water in a pagan community which treats them well, introduces them to local customs (much to the guests’ discomfort), and then prepares the unwitting for ritual sacrifice. Uneasy chuckles and outright horror ensues.
Unfortunately, in place of Man’s hard-nosed, intelligent man of faith Sergeant Howie, we get dim-witted former pop star/born again Christian Beth Boothby and her just as dim, aw-shucks cowboyfriend Steve. And, in place of Christopher Lee’s iconic and charismatic Lord Summerisle, we get a pale imitation with Sir Lachlan Morrison (to be fair to actor Graham McTavish, who essays the role, I’ll point out that the part is quite underwritten). The film itself follows suit, failing to do little more than to remind us of how great the original film is.
It’s not as though they didn’t have the resources to make a great film. The movie is mostly well shot, with gorgeous locations and scenery, and the cast members all do a decent enough job. If only the script hadn’t failed them so completely. It’s unfair, I suppose, to have expected writing on par with Anthony Shaffer’s brilliant screenplay for the 1973 film. But did every character have to be reduced to shallow stereotypes? One of the many wonderful things about the original film is how murky it all is for the viewer. Our hero occasionally comes across as a bastard! Our villain is a well-spoken, charming guy! There is no such uncomfortable ambiguity with this movie. Our heroes are wide-eyed innocents, while the villains practically rub their hands while giggling maniacally when our leads aren’t looking. And for all of the conversation on the nature of religion in the original film, all we get with Tree amounts to – Christians are naïve, Pagans are evil. How depressingly simple.
Still, as this is meant to be a home video review, I’ll leave you to EvilAndy’s review of the film here for further reading.
The image on Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray and DVD is mostly solid, with the beautiful locations and scenery looking pretty fantastic. It’s only when the photography is a bit dark or murky that the picture fails, looking a bit washed-out with blacks that have little depth. This is likely due to the digital cinematography, rather than the transfer itself. The audio is perfectly solid, neither poor nor outstanding. Of course, if you have the option and see fit to own the film, you’ll likely want to choose the Blu-ray over the DVD.
Now, the special features. While the package isn’t as bereft as Anchor Bay’s release of The Divide, it’s still far from what one would expect for a film with The Wicker Tree’s history (i.e., its place in what Hardy is calling his Wicker Man trilogy, its long and bumpy journey from book to screen, etc.).
Unfortunately, all we get are a rather unspectacular making-of piece running about ten minutes long, a trailer, and a batch of poorly transferred deleted scenes with jerky video and badly synced audio. Anchor Bay, you know I love you, but what the hell?
Still, if you’re a fan of the original film, you know you’re going to want to see this. My only advice is to temper your expectations. It’s certainly not a terrible film, just an unremarkable one. In the meantime we can only hope that Hardy either regains his footing and finishes his Wicker trilogy out on a high note or decides to abandon it completely and leave well enough alone.
2 out of 5
2 out of 5