Monday, April 23, 2012

DVD Review: 'The Wicker Tree'

In 1973 Robin Hardy made a little film called “The Wicker Man”, which became a bonafied piece cult horror. A few years ago “The Wicker Man” was remade (remember Nicolas Cage yelling about “The Bees!”). For whatever reason, maybe to cash in, maybe because the remake left a bad taste in his mouth, Hardy made “The Wicker Tree”. Neither a sequel nor a remake of his original film, “Tree” is intended as a thematic companion to “Man”, and ultimately part of a planned “Wicker” trilogy. “The Wicker Tree” is now out on Blu-ray and DVD, and I’m going to go ahead and say, whatever his motivations, Hardy should have left well enough alone and not bothered.

Based on “Cowboys for Christ”, a 2006 novel Hardy wrote, “The Wicker Tree” is about Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol), a evangelical country singer and reformed bad girl, who goes to Scotland to preach the Word to the heathen hordes of the Highlands. You can tell she’ll be tempted because she used to be slutty and had a hit song about being trashy white trash, and some habits are harder to break than others. Her aww-shucks bumpkin boyfriend (he sleeps in his cowboy hat) Steve (Henry Garrett) accompanies her, and the two find themselves in all sorts of trouble.

I didn’t know this, but apparently the entire breadth of Scotland is nothing but heathens, pagans, atheists, and enemies of God as far as the eye can see. If “The Wicker Tree” is to be believed, no Christians have ever ventured into Scotland, and none of the citizens have ever heard of the Bible. Weird, huh? You’d think they’d have at least heard of that crazy Jesus guy all the kids are so into these days, you know, being a civilized Western country in the 21st century and all.

 If you can get past the idea that Scotland is a backwards, unholy hell hole full of sin, cannibalism, human sacrifice, and creepy locals who lurk en masse in alleyways—no easy task mind you—“The Wicker Tree” doesn’t get any better. There are moments of unintentional hilarity, like Steve’s vision of Beth covered in fruit, the lady who hangs out topless in the stream near the side of the road, and a sweet groin stabbing, but they are too few and far between to redeem an entire film. The pace is painfully slow, and lumbers on and on towards an obvious conclusion. In fact, the only people who don’t see the end coming are the shucky-dang-darn-good-ol’ protagonists. But they’re idiots, so you can forgive them that one oversight.

“The Wicker Tree” really wants to be a portrait of two believers having their faith and resolve tested by evil, vice, and sexual temptation. But all it takes for Steve to fall off the abstinence wagon is a moon-goddess-worshipping Scottish hillbilly to flash her boobies at him and he’s done for. It’s not entirely his fault, like I said, he’s an idiot who can’t help himself. Spooky and ominous tones mean nothing if nothing even remotely spooky or ominous is going on, and a bunch of painted dirt-worshippers flailing about is not sinister, enticing, or particularly frightening. You won’t want to have sex with any of them. You won’t even want to be around them.

There is really no plot to “The Wicker Tree”. It is little more than a plodding series of strange events that occur one after the other, for no reason, with no connection, causality, or consequences. The “clever” pagans use the most blatant trick you’ll ever see in any movie to trap the pure, chaste heroes in their evil plans. To call it a trick is being generous. The whole movie reminiscent of low-budget 70s horror that doesn’t always make sense, you know, the ones you watch and vaguely wonder if there is a scene missing because from one moment to the next you feel like you skipped over something important. Maybe somewhere there’s a forgotten reel of film that will magically bring it all together.

“The Wicker Tree” certainly is unique. In the end it will leave you scratching your head, thinking, well, I’ve never seen a movie quite like that before. And not in a good way, as it is quite, quite terrible, and you should do everything you can to avoid watching it. If you do see this—say someone straps you into a chair “Clockwork Orange” style—it won’t do any permanent damage, but it won’t enhance your life in any way.

The home release comes with a 12-minute making-of documentary that is standard stuff. All of the actors and crew stand around talking, doing their level best to make “The Wicker Tree” seem more important and interesting than it actually it. There is a decent amount of time dedicated to the ubiquitous music in the film. It’s seriously everywhere. Beth breaks into song no less than three times in the first nine-minutes and thirty seconds alone.

Nine deleted scenes were, let’s shoot straight here for a moment, cut out of the movie for good reason. The finished product is already a meandering mess, and everything they left out would only exacerbate that flaw. Most of these bits are inconsequential, and largely trimmed from the open or close of already extant scenes. Unless you’re desperate, unless you’re fiending for more of “The Wicker Tree” like a junkie for a fix, there is no reason that you need to spend any time on these extras.

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