It seems as though we’ve been hearing about a sequel to Robin Hardy’s 1973 masterpiece The Wicker Man for the better part of two decades. Back in the 1989, producer Lance Reynolds commissioned a script entitled The Loathsome Lambton Worm, which would have supposedly picked up where the 1973 film left off (despite its stars being nearly twenty years older), while, during the late 90s/early noughties, Hardy, himself, was actively shopping around his idea for an indirect sequel called The Riding of the Laddie. It seems much of this concept would later be formed into Hardy’s novel, Cowboys for Christ, which was published in 2006; the same year director Neil LaBute’s anticipated Wicker Man remake was set to be released in theaters. Unfortunately for Hardy, LaBute’s film was a critical and commercial disaster, thanks, in no small part, to star Nicolas Cage’s notoriously unhinged performance (“No! Not the Beeeeeeeeees!”); one that, to this day, serves as the inspiration for countless YouTube parodies and internet memes.
While it seemed that the Wicker Man brand had been irreparably damaged by Hollywood’s mishandling, Hardy was undeterred, and, in 2008, began production on what would ultimately become The Wicker Tree.
Country super star sex kitten-turned-evangelical angel, Beth Boothby (Britannia Nicol), and her cowboy boyfriend, Steve (Henry Garrett) head to Scotland to spread both the word of the lord and espouse the virtues of abstinence to the country’s youngfolk. After a bit of trouble getting their message across in the city, the couple are invited to Tressock, a charming little village overseen by wealthy businessman Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish) and his lovely wife, Delia (Jacqueline Leonard), where they’re promised an open-minded audience that will embrace their message about Christ. Beth and Steve are thrilled with the invitation, and, upon arriving in the rural fiefdom, are welcomed with open arms by its seemingly friendly inhabitants, especially the sexy stable hand, Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks), who takes an immediate shine to Steve.
The couple proves so popular with the townsfolk that Morrison invites them to be the guests of honor at this season’s Mayday celebration, with Beth being named the Mayday Queen while Steve is given the role of her Laddie. While Beth is off preparing for her big day, Steve is seduced by Lolly, who begins to exhibit feelings for the “awwshucks” American. Steve, meanwhile, is riddled with guilt over his indiscretions; so much so that he informs Beth that, after the festivities, he’s going home to America, where he can go back to being a simple cowboy. Of course, the seemingly innocent celebration is not what either of the missionaries has envisioned, and, by the time the true intentions of the citizens of Tressock are revealed, it’s already too late.
Hardy’s first film since 1986’s The Fantasist, The Wicker Tree is a darkly comic meditation on similar themes explored in the original film, boasting lots of music, sex, and even a cameo by Christopher Lee. Missing, however, is that sense of danger that made The Wicker Man such an engrossing film. In the original, we had the mystery of the missing girl, and observed the proceedings through the eyes of the shrewd Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), whose religious convictions and innately suspicious demeanor made the strange and secretive denizens of Summerisle seem all the more threatening. This generated a tremendous amount of suspense, heightened our emotional investment in the fates of both Howie and the missing girl, and made the film’s legendary conclusion that much more impactful. With The Wicker Tree, we get none of that. Save for an eccentric bird handler who speaks in sonnets, the inhabitants of Tressock are an innocuous lot, but, even if they weren’t, Beth and Steve are so blinded by their own personal beliefs and naïveté they wouldn’t notice anyway. It’s hard to root for stupid protagonists, even if the film is, as Hardy suggests, a black comedy. I needed to care about Beth and Steve more than I did for the film’s obvious conclusion to hold any weight, but I just couldn’t relate to them in the least.
Those issues aside, I did enjoy the film for what it is; a low-budget, funny, and sexy “spiritual sequel” (as Hardy calls it) to The Wicker Man. The humor works very well (especially the bits where we see Beth’s pre-calling version of herself singing trashy country tunes about booze, sex, and being ‘born in a car’), and the performances and production values are well above direct-to-video norms (although seeing Lee in his brief cameo is a tease of what could have been. The role of Morrison was originally written for the legendary actor, but, after an injury on the set of The Resident, the part was handed off to McTavish). In the end, I probably enjoyed The Wicker Tree more than anticipated, but those looking for a serious follow-up to the beloved 1973 classic will most likely be disappointed.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray presentation of The Wicker Tree features a solid 2.35:1 transfer. The image is mostly crisp and sports generally fine detail. The film, itself, looks somewhat flat, but that has more to do with how it was filmed rather than with any fault in the transfer. Colors are vibrant, especially against the perpetually overcast Scottish skies, and darker tones are rich and true. The accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is serviceable, but won’t wow audiophiles with its somewhat practical mix. Dialogue is crisp and mixed up front and center, while the occasional directional cue can be heard throughout the sound spectrum, but, for a film in which music is a major component, I found the mix to be a bit conservative, especially in terms of bass.
Extras are few, with only a short Making of the Wicker Man featurette (presented in standard definition), a collection of deleted scenes (SD), and the film’s original trailer (HD).