Described as both a reimagining and a sequel to 1978’s oddball pagan horror musical The Wicker Man, depending on where you get your information, The Wicker Tree is perhaps better thought of as a companion piece – much like slash fiction is a companion piece to the original intellectual property.
Based on director Robin Hardy’s Cowboys For Christ novel, Hardy plays a lot of the same chords, but there’s something slightly curdled about the whole thing – the direction has that stately, classical quality that echoes The Omen, with long establishing shots of cars approaching houses, cutting to people getting out of the car, cutting to interior shots, while dramatic incidental music abounds.
In 1978 this was the height of big screen sophistication, but in 2012 it feels more akin to parochial familiarity of parent-friendly pot-boiler Midsomer Murders, complete with supporting characters delivering lines of muttered foreshadowing at every turn, just in case you thought you were watching Escape To The Country.
Narratively it echoes its predecessor to the point of seriously invading its personal space – there’s the pious Christian – this time two of them – the isolated community whose thinly disguised paganism turns murderous, a tweed-jacketed member of the gentry using said paganism as an instrument of social control, fruit as a metaphor for sexuality, boobs as a metaphor for sexuality, funny costumes, burning wicker thingamies, and lots and lots of lovely, slightly threatening folksy singing.
It’s perhaps a far more faithful redux than Nicholas Cage’s 2006 bear-punching pantomime of gurning and bellowing, but in its own way it has woefully misjudged scenes every bit as memorable, as every moment of heavy-handed foreshadowing gets its equal and opposite number in a spot of confused knockabout comedy. Christian songstress Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) and her fiancé Steve Thompson (Henry Garrett), playing Bible Belt purity ring stereotypes from a sketch show, find themselves taunted by visions about as tonally confused as the dancing baby from Ally McBeal, while Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish) is the sort of moustache-twirling ner-do-well that Christopher Lee’s aggressively reasonable Lord Summerisle was an attempt to get away from, and whose perplexingly daft fate is doubtless to be committed to internet history alongside Nic Cage’s bee hat.
Still, some of the songs are good, and Christopher Lee has a lovely cameo that’s clearly filmed against some green screen in his front room.