The Wicker Tree [Blu-Ray] Robin Hardy

The Wicker Tree [Blu-Ray] Robin Hardy
Widely considered a classic of atypical horror, Robin Hardy's 1973 film, The Wicker Man, carefully walked the line of bizarre comedy and insidious menace as a police sergeant investigates the disappearance of a young girl on a private island commune whom the locals claim never existed. Nearly 40 years and only one film later (1986's little-seen The Fantasist), Hardy returns with thematic sequel, The Wicker Tree. Unfortunately, this film's tone is likely to confound and alienate viewers even more than Neil LaBute's misunderstood and underappreciated Nicolas Cage-starring black-comedy remake of the original. The idea that brought Hardy back, which was ten years in gestation, according to the supplemental "Making Of," is loaded with satirical potential. Two born-again Texans (a cowboy and a slutty pop singer gone country-gospel) embark upon missionary work to bring the word of their lord to the pagans of Scotland. What ensues is an odd, unfocused menagerie of long, repetitive scenes involving song, dance, sex and cheap jabs at the earnest, mindless preaching of the two corn-fed rubes. I appreciate questioning the blind faith of born-agains, but Hardy's script, based on his book, stops short of making any distinct comment on the subject. Instead, the director settles for having the peculiar, insular community members point out to the sheepish ciphers trying to convert them that pagan rituals are at the root of many Christian traditions, while slowly manipulating the easy marks into transgressions of faith. Balancing mean-spirited satire and awkward comedy with a sense of foreboding dread is tricky to pull off, and after letting his filmmaking skills atrophy, Hardy isn't up to the task. More assured direction of more insightful actors could have made for a scathing and singular lampooning of religious indoctrination and the expectations of genre filmmaking, but as it is, The Wicker Tree is an indistinct collection of half-baked notions and images. The movie isn't without its charms though, like the random act of adding English subtitles to clearly spoken lines during a sex scene, including grunt symbols. And what's not to like about frumpy, naked pagans dancing around a big fire, especially when there's behind-the-scenes footage and extended scenes of it among the numerous deleted song and dance numbers? I'd normally consider it bad form to quote from another review, but the sole press blurb adorning this Blu-Ray release by Damon Wise of Empireonline.com so perfectly captures the vague and uncertain reception to, and presentation of, this misguided oddity that I can't resist: "You'll see faces, performances and scenes you'll never see in any other movie." When that's the best pull quote a marketing team can find, it's pretty telling. Or maybe Hardy is operating on another level and it's all part of the joke, because it's certainly funny. Regardless, if you're going to watch any entry in the Wicker series, just remember: it's okay to laugh. (Anchor Bay)