Sometimes an eerie mood and a sadistic self-awareness is more than enough.
Such is the case with “The Wicker Tree,” writer/director Robin Hardy’s worthy companion piece to his 1973 cult classic “The Wicker Man.” Although it takes plenty of patience before finally arriving at a pretty predictable destination – especially if you have seen Hardy’s original – the new dramatic thriller exudes an ambiance that tickles your funny bone and creeps down your spine at the same time.
Brittania Nicol and Henry Garret play Beth and Steve, respectively – a pair of young missionaries who head to Scotland with the intent of doing God’s work. While Tressock – the small town in which they make their stay – seems a bit off, the duo is charmed by the engaging baron Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish).
In fact, Beth and Steve are so taken with the town that they agree to become the local Queen of the May and Laddie for its annual festival. But the couple is not prepared for the frightening consequences of their decision and the very disturbing secrets they are about to discover about Tressock’s seemingly friendly townspeople.
While most young moviegoers will associate “The Wicker Man” with Nicolas Cage, who starred in Neil LaBute’s rebuked remake in 2006, older moviegoers will beckon back to the version that Hardy would prefer them to remember – his own. A potential highlight for those viewers will be an extremely brief cameo by that version’s star Christopher Lee.
Needless to say, Lee is quite a bit older, which is an odd sight seeing as “The Wicker Tree” features a unique aesthetic that could fool viewers into believing that the motion picture was in fact filmed in the 70’s. The movie’s strange cinematography only makes the movie that much more fun, as one feels like they are watching a long-lost cult classic.
Having said that, one might wish that Hardy had picked up the pace and especially incorporated a slightly more startling ending to “The Wicker Tree.” After all, it is hard to get all shaken up over something that you have essentially seen before. On the other hand, the filmmaker has a way about keeping moviegoers on edge with atmosphere alone.
In other words, not a moment of “The Wicker Tree” goes by without the viewer feeling as though something is a bit off – not as a result of familiarity but rather the aura that Hardy creates with everything from his creepy characters and disturbing dialogue to his macabre music and peculiar production design.
But perhaps “The Wicker Tree’s” greatest achievement is its sinister sense of humor that permeates everything from the actor’s performances (they are not bad, they are playing perfectly into the film’s general state of abnormality) to a representation of religion that is a bit extreme, to say the least. All of this adds up for some very not-so-tongue-in-cheek fun.
“The Wicker Tree” (R – 90 minutes) is now playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. Visit FirstLook.com for specific showtimes.