39 years later - heck, it's been six years since the remake came out! - Robin Hardy's sequel to The Wicker Man is finally seeing the light of day. Distributors have spent the better part of the last decade (at least) promoting the original film with one critic's quote that called it "The Citizen Kane of horror movies", and for good reason. But as I look at The Wicker Tree, it's really hard to see that film - which was truly a one of a kind horror/musical/parable - in the background.
Hardy tries very hard to recapture the same balance that he did in The Wicker Man, but Edward Woodward and Britt Ekland are not walking through that door any time soon. A digitally enhanced Christopher Lee shows up for a 20-second long cameo, but that's about the only thing that connects the film to its predecessor.
The plot is pretty similar to the '73 film, though everything's blown up a little bit to modern standards. This time we have two young born again American evangelists, a wholesome God-Pop singer and her "cowboy" boyfriend, heading to the Scottish countryside to spread God's word. It's pretty obvious from day one that the two youngsters are targets of the society, who are now "ruled" by a nuclear power plant owner who compares himself to Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. (I'm not even joking. Can you imagine a reference to a TV show in the '73 film? Pop culture has infected EVERYTHING.)
Newcomer Brittania Nicol - to date this is all she's done on film - takes the lead as the Christian songstress, and, along with Henry Garrett as Steve the Cowboy (they'll repeat the word cowboy about 7,348 times to make this point clear to you), presents an "aw shucks, look how naive we are" front that is painful for the viewer to endure. The characters are one note and ridiculous, even when the film haphazardly tries to draw on their past and present "sins", while the people of New Summerisle - from Graham McTavish as the Patriarch to the aptly named Honeysuckle Weeks as the oft-nude poison fruit of temptation - are laughably over the top. Even the extras overact grandly, and I often found myself laughing at the people on screen simply because they looked so ridiculous as they tried to sell this story.
I don't know if I'd call the original Wicker Man subtle, but its certainly not as blunt as this awkward sequel. There's little to no suspense - even if I hadn't seen the original film and/or the remake I'd know that these "pure" characters are, for lack of a better word, screwed - and the satirical approach to religions of all types is handled without any semblance of a delicate touch. Scenes like the one that reveals our pop star's impure past career inspire more unintentional laughs, and the use of a church hymn in two different roles during the second and third acts had me rolling my eyes. Music was a key part of the original film, but that too drops off here - the use of music within the film is as annoying as anything else The Wicker Tree throws at us.
I can't believe I'm typing this, but the most unfortunate thing about The Wicker Tree is that its mistakes aren't even memorably bad. Neil LaBute's over-the-top remake of The Wicker Man has at least made an impact and brought attention to the original thanks to an awful script that Nicolas Cage turned into a pop culture phenomenon. I'm in a minority, but I've championed that film for its unintentional comedy value before, despite the fact that I know it misses the point the original made. The Wicker Tree misses the point just as badly, but there's no way I would even recommend someone pick up this film if they enjoy such ineptitude.
By the time The Wicker Tree rolled into its truly ridiculous (and still very over-the-top) final scenes, I was physically upset that I wasted my time on this movie. It's not the worst thing I've seen, but it's got next to no redeeming qualities - I can't think of an example of one right now - and it's clear that Hardy doesn't have the same vision that he did when he made The Wicker Man. By bringing the story to modern times and playing off of modern born again stereotypes, The Wicker Tree becomes grating and unwelcome quickly.
If you're a fan of the original, avoid this one at all costs. If you're not acquainted with that film, don't start here either. And if you're a fan of Cage's Wicker Man and its hilariously clumsy ways - you're not going to find them here either. This might be the rare film that truly has no audience...and that's probably a good thing.