‘The Wicker Tree’ aims big, but loses the thread early on

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The Wicker Tree
Written by Robin Hardy
Directed by Robin Hardy
UK, 2011

Fans of British writer/director Robin Hardy’s 1973 film The Wicker Man will likely be nonplussed by his newest effort The Wicker Tree. Neither a sequel to nor a remake of the first film – and completely unrelated to the laughably awful Neil LaBute version from 2006 – The Wicker Tree tries to follow Hardy’s earlier work in spirit, but it completely loses the thread early on.

American Brittania Nicol makes her acting debut as Beth Boothby, a born-again Christian pop singer who takes her boyfriend Steve (British newcomer Henry Garrett) with her on a mission to convert souls in Scotland. They find themselves in a small village which has a strange attachment to the old Celtic gods. This is the same basic structure as the 1973 film – devout Christian runs up against mysterious pagans – but the older film had Edward Woodward as a policeman trying to find clues and punish the guilty. Beth and Steve simply wander through this film allowing events to happen to them, which strips all of the mystery out of their story.

Nicol performs her own songs beautifully with support from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but she just doesn’t have enough gravitas for her other big dramatic moments. Garrett has it even worse: his accent is not Texan but TEXAN!, like a central-casting Dallas cowboy. He shows some chops in exactly one scene, where he is wracked with guilt over a betrayal of Beth, and in every other minute of the movie he seems like a lunkheaded parody of a young American evangelical.

This film would like to say some interesting things about religion, but before it can even get there it fails on a more basic level. It has the same pacing problems that the LaBute version had, where the first three-quarters of the movie are aiming for a slightly off-kilter realism before accelerating to full-speed crazy. The evil plot at its center is never adequately explained, despite the presence of an awkward “let’s dump a ton of villainous exposition while driving in the car” scene. Where The Wicker Man used an atmospheric thriller plot to suggest that there are forces in this world too strong for faith to stand up to them, The Wicker Tree merely terrorizes two naive children.

Mark Young

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