The Wicker Tree (2012)
96 min., rated R.
"The Wicker Tree," writer-director Robin Hardy's belated follow-up to his chillingly strange 1973 cult film "The Wicker Man," is reportedly a tongue-in-cheek black comedy. And yet, it's not amusing, nor is it disturbing or shocking even as a horror film. In fact, it's not much of anything. Sluggish and even less fun than the head-scratching, unintentionally funny 2006 remake with Nicolas Cage, "The Wicker Tree" only succeeds as amateurish and just plain curious hogwash. In retrospect, Cage prancing around in a bear costume and cold-cocking women had its campy pleasures.
Sweet-as-nectar pop star/born again Christian Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) and her cowboy fiancee Steve (Henry Garrett) are not-so-bright Dallas missionaries that leave for Tressock, Scotland, to spread the word of God to the "heathens." The two are welcomed by the rich Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish) and his wife Delia (Jacqueline Leonardas), luring these nitwits into their Celtic cult. Asked to join the residents' upcoming May Day celebration, Beth and Steve will soon become "the Queen" and her "Laddie" as a pagan ritual to worship an ancient goddess.
Nicol and Garrett, both unknowns, are appropriately guileless and painfully earnest but wooden as the trees. We're way ahead of Beth and Steve, who are bland and not very likable. They're both sinners, but pride themselves on being redeemers; the Tressock folks can't sacrifice these ninnies fast enough. Honeysuckle Weeks (great name) has some kooky moments as the horse-riding Lolly, including a sex scene with subtitles. Credited as "Old Man," Christopher Lee (who memorably played Lord Summerisle in the first film) has a brief, worthless cameo in a flashback.
Based on Hardy's 2006 novel "Cowboys for Christ," the film begins as a wonky satire of hypocritical, evangelical Christianity in the form of these naïve Americans versus Paganism in the form of the Scottish villagers. Then once its story actually gets going and hopefully leads to the only logical conclusion, the only suspense comes in how Beth and Steve will be sacrificed. All the menacing stuff is confined to the last half-hour with nary a standout moment, and it's too bad a key cannibalistic orgy is muffed by feeling like an edited TV version.
What Robin Hardy was going for isn't quite clear. If he wanted "The Wicker Tree" to be a droll take on the eroticism and paganism that he already took on thirty-nine years ago, the results are muddled and ineffective. While Hardy would probably burn anyone that brought comparisons to this pseudo-remake/sequel to his 1973 original, this modern-day version is merely a joke. "Kill List," a much more disturbing, well-acted, and well-written film that dove into "Wicker Man" territory, was released earlier this year and it's actually worth your while.