The long-anticipated sequel to the 1973 horror masterpiece The Wicker Man is finally available on Blu-ray this week, written and directed by Robin Hardy, the same filmmaker responsible for the original. The Wicker Tree, available from Anchor Bay, is adapted from Hardy’s 2006 novel Cowboys for Christ, and though it strives to expand on the original film’s themes about religion and cultural differences, it’s a much weaker entry than the classic it aspires to follow up.
Steve (Henry Garrett) and Beth (Brittania Nichol) are a pair of young Born Again missionaries from Texas who set off for Scotland, determined to ferret out and convert the Celtic heathens still residing in obscure parts of the region. Aiding them on their quest is Beth’s repertoire of snappy Christian folk ballads, which she has composed and perfected in the wake of her recently renounced career as a raunchy, scantily clad pop idol. Committed to their mission at first, Beth and Steve quickly find their relationship and spiritual goals challenged when they arrive in a small Scottish community on the cusp of celebrating its ancient May Day festival, which involves a costumed Pagan procession through the village, followed by unspecified communal revelry on its outskirts. Hoping to befriend and win over their potential prey, Beth and Steve are drawn deeper and deeper into the festival preparations, failing to realize that the rest of the town’s citizens have dark, twisted plans of their own which directly involve their out-of-town guests.
Wicker Tree attempts to expand on the core themes of Wicker Man by telling a different story about similar characters, but although it takes pains to incorporate new elements – religious and cultural contrasts between Americans and Europeans, for example – it plays more as a retread than a fresh take. Aside from its failure to live up to the finely tuned simplicity of the original, Wicker Tree’s plotting is disorganized and listless, and it lacks strong, identifiable characters. Worst of all, it tries to get away with an extremely similar twist ending, which is so heavily foreshadowed in advance that it’s impossible not to anticipate, and therefore becomes boring.
The movie’s interests seem sincere despite the lackluster execution, and it’s possible the miscommunication is partly attributable to the film’s uniquely British perspective – the differences between American and European forms of worship likely appear more pronounced in a region with such strong and direct Pagan ancestry. The film’s execution, however, just isn’t strong enough to support its ideas, at least not cross-culturally. Anchor Bay does its best to give the movie a solid presentation, including some deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes footage, but though Wicker Tree’s premise looks solid on paper, and its thematic priorities have strong potential, the finished product can’t quite live up to them.