One of the longest-gestating and most-awaited follow-ups of all time, The Wicker Tree has plenty to live up to given the indomitable stature of the 1973 original, The Wicker Man, as a bonafide horror classic. However, with the return of the original film’s director Robin Hardy, who here is adapting his own novel, “Cowboys for Christ”, and the promise of a bit-part from The Wicker Man’s villain, played by Christopher Lee, there’s certainly plenty of promise. Unfortunately, most of that promise is squandered in this thoroughly unnecessary, dafter second take which categorically fails to contribute anything new to the mythos and more fundamentally, is absolutely lacking in the scares department.
Following a similar plot to the original film, The Wicker Tree revolves around renowned U.S. pop singer Beth (Brittania Nicol) and her boyfriend Steve (Henry Garrett), two born-again Christians who partake in a two-year mission to spread the word of God to the largely heathen town of Glasgow, Scotland. Met with an initially frosty reception, they nevertheless find comfort in the small number of locals interested in what they have to say, and they are invited to take part in the May Day celebrations, entirely unaware of the savage importance of the parts they will play…
While in style this may closely resemble the original classic, tonally it is indeed quite different, imbued with a much sillier sense of humour, content as a rather low-rent fish-out-of-water comedy both in regard to the differences between Americans and Scots and also those between Christians and Pagans. The film makes an amusing point about the stereotypical ignorance and blind, doe-eyed followers of evangelical Christians, for after all, Paganism predates Christianity by an extraordinary number of years even if they have little interest in hearing this.
The investment in the humour is not the least of the film’s problems though; it lacks the hedonistic eroticism of the original despite more than its fair share of nudity, and more importantly, suspense is lacking pretty much completely in the film’s dull first half. Ultimately the film from then slides towards an expected conclusion, eagerly mirroring the original with little difference, just the mode in which the poor saps are faced with a grim end. The film suffers through not making us care; when Edward Woodward’s Sergeant Howie met his grim fate at the end of the original, we cared, and it helped ramp the terror up to unimaginable levels. Here, it’s a long-expected outcome and we just don’t care as the leads are so annoyingly – if initially amusingly – naive.
Things liven up finally in the third act with an urgent, energetic chase on horseback, following a pointless waste of a Christopher Lee cameo, lasting all of 90 seconds and adding essentially very little to the plot (Lee was originally intended to star but suffered an injury on another film he was working on), but from here the thriller elements just follow the traveled path too closely to justify the need for this film at all.
This slack and rather pointless retread is funnier than the original though not at all scary as it trundles towards its predictable conclusion.