Moviegoers are familiar with two vintages of The Wicker Man. There's Robin Hardy's 1973 still-potent horror flick and playwright Neil LaBute's accidentally hilarious 2006 remake, which is most famous for Nicolas Cage caterwauling about bees.
For The Wicker Tree — Hardy's new "spiritual sequel" to The Wicker Man which draws from his 2006 novel Cowboys for Christ — the director has dipped into the druidic shenanigans of the original and the "Nic Cage in a bear suit" chortles of LaBute's version. Yes, The Wicker Man 2 is a comedy, in which lusty cultists diddle wearing horse masks.
Note: Spoilers for The Wicker Man and The Wicker Tree ahead. Even though the iconic ending to The Wicker Man has been culturally disseminated out to wazoo, you owe it to yourself to see it. As for The Wicker Tree, well, this movie is thoroughly balls, so I have zero compunction spoiling it here.
Let's begin by taking a gander at the trailer for The Wicker Tree below. Go ahead, it's a measly two minutes, and Sir Christopher Lee intones ominously for 10 seconds.
When I first saw that preview in theaters a few weeks back, I assumed The Wicker Tree would be the deathly serious follow-up to The Wicker Man in which Lord Summerisle was a major player. But instead, it's a double entendre-spewing dark comedy in which Sir Christopher Lee intones ominously for 10 seconds (in a flashback). Also, the eponymous tree has nothing to do with the plot. They really could have named it The Wicker Chair.
For all of the trailer's egregious false advertising, The Wicker Tree does decide to gore up in the last 15 minutes. But before that, the movie is about a promise-ring-bearing Christian country singer (actress Brittania Nicol) and her cowboy boyfriend's (Henry Garrett) evangelical mission to convert the neopagan heathens of Scotland.
Ostensibly a satire, The Wicker Tree delights at first because the audience has no clue Hardy's gunning for guffaws. When a Texas pastor kicks off the movie barking about how Scots "don't believe in angels," you assume it's unintentionally funny bad scriptwriting. But as the gags pile up, it becomes clear The Wicker Tree is a hokey comedy filled with angry Scotsmen getting stabbed in the testicles, ventriloquism acts with ravens, dead cats, and horseheaded bedroom play.
Hardy's script has a few good zingers, like when the born-again songstress revisits her redneck Lolita discography (sample lyric: "I was born in a car!") and when her chaste boyfriend begins hallucinating that she's a cornucopia-covered pagan fertility goddess.
There's also a clever (albeit totally unexplored) subplot about how pollution from a nearby factory has rendered the villagers infertile, so the CEO begins encouraging human sacrifice on May Day to bring the babies back (and keep the bumpkins distracted).
After a while, the sadistic glee of watching the missionaries march to their doom wears off, and, like the creepy townsfolk, you're waiting around bored for the blood to spill. Also, the "shocker" ending fizzles out 10 minutes before the credits.
The Wicker Tree is The Wicker Man filtered through the aesthetics of a crappier episode of True Blood. There are ta-tas, twangs, and terrible jokes, and you sort of hate yourself for watching it. Give Paul O'Connell's A Muppet Wicker Man a whirl instead.