Throughout the history of horror films, there are the iconic masterworks that seem to transcend the genre trappings inherent in the style of film. ‘˜The Exorcist.’ ‘˜Psycho.’ ‘˜Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’ However, what is even more common than the mentions of these films in the same breath as some of cinema’s greatest achievements, regardless of genre, is the trend of sequels.
Each of these classics have been fodder for cavalcades of sequels or remakes, or in the case of the latter two, combinations of the two. That said, one of the creepiest horror films around, ‘˜The Wicker Man,’ had always been one of the rare ones. Then, a remake hit, souring the name of the classic, and now, after years and years of trying, director Robin Hardy is back, with a ‘spiritual’ sequel to his creepy-as-hell cult classic.
And sadly, it’s utter trash.
Both written and directed by Hardy, the film is based on Hardy’s own novel from 2006, entitled ‘˜Cowboys For Christ,’ which follows the story of a pop singer turned born-again-gospel star and her beau, the dim-witted cowboy Steve. Ready to spread the good word through their twang-ridden country slop, the pair head to Scotland to turn those heathens right. Or so they think. When things slowly start to unravel, lives are put at risk, as things turn sour quick. However, the subsequent events are neither as thematically interesting nor as genuinely creepy as the original’s narrative, and are also told in an utterly turgid stylistic manner.
And this is ultimately where the film goes wrong. Unlike the remake of the original classic, ‘˜The Wicker Tree’ is not as darkly comedic, nor as cartoonishly entertaining, leaving the film overall in this weird purgatory of dull style and even more dull narrative. Hardy’s latest film does have its brief moments, particularly a stylized final act, but these moments are often few and far between. Instead, Hardy allows his camera to linger on seemingly pointless moments of exposition or philosophizing, that simply don’t add up to anything come the film’s actual conclusion. With a hamfisted script, ‘˜Tree’ is up front with its confrontation with both faith and how society construes this sense of right and wrong to mean whatever they deem it to mean, but never quite says anything that the original’s look into sociological decent hadn’t already spoken on.
The cast doesn’t help. Save for a fun little cameo from Christopher Lee, the cast is completely wooden. Brittania Nicol plays our lead, Beth, alongside Henry Garrett as Steve, both of whom are seemingly bewildered by the camera in front of them, yet have no idea what type of film they are in. Almost ripped right out of a ‘˜Scary Movie’ like pile of parody film garbage, the pair of them are completely earnest, without having a single ounce of truth to their Looney Tune-esque performances. Almost stage-like in their physicality, the duo are laughably cartoonish on screen. Honeysuckle Weeks not only has a brilliant name but does have a few comedic moments, particularly a hilarious subtitled sex scene, which definitely adds a bit of levity to an otherwise brooding little film. That said, the rest of the supporting cast seems to give it their all yet completely miss the mark, often tonally feeling far too terse and blunt about what they are attempting to get across on screen.
Which itself may be the film’s greatest flaw, in that it has no idea what it is trying to do. One moment, the film wants you to feel a bit light, laughing at a woman’s ramblings during intercourse or a joke made during the preparation of a potential sacrifice, but then it also wants to have set over it this sense of dread and impending doom, the pairing of which feels cinematically like a bad wine pairing. The film wants to give you a heaping helping of philosophizing, but instead of giving this intellectual dish a deep, rich red wine of a narrative, one instead gets the cheapest, bottom shelf excuse for a plot and performances that would make any other filmmaker squirm. The few moments the film is allowed to really breath be damned, ‘˜The Wicker Tree’ makes this writer miss the days of Nicolas Cage in a bear suit. Good gracious, I never thought I’d say that out loud.