Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I saw THE WICKER TREE at the Montreal Fantasia Festival last night. I was disappointed.

/* SPOILERS */

Years ago, I saw THE WICKER MAN (1973). It's a cult classic because it does a very clever thing: it makes you root against the hero. A police detective goes to Summer Isle to investigate a missing girl. What he finds there upsets his priggish Anglican prudery. Summerisle seems to be a place of loose morals. Couples rut in the bushes. Everyone drinks and sings. No one goes to church. It's as if hippies ran the town like one big summer camp.

What Summerisle is, of course, is pagan. And as the cop runs around interfering and meddling, Summerisle is working its way towards one of the great pagan holidays. The cop realizes too late that the locals are into human sacrifice, and he's it. But by the time he's in the giant wicker man and they're lighting up the torches, we pretty much hate him, and love the locals.

It's one of the peculiarities of the big and small screens that we can love murderers if they are adorable enough, and dislike professional heroes if they are annoying enough.

(Your mileage may vary. Lisa was horrified by the ending. Either way the movie works.)

Along comes THE WICKER TREE, 38 years later. This one, director Robin Hardy also wrote. (Anthony Schaffer wrote the original.) Unfortunately, while it's beautifully directed, structurally it's a mess. Some directors should not write.

Essentially, it's a reworking of the same idea. But this time, instead of an obnoxious police detective, the protagonists are two American evangelicals from Texas, a pixiesh Christian Country Music singer with the voice of an angel, and her cowboy boyfriend. They are out of their depth from the moment they come to Scotland to proselytize. But even when confronted with out-of-the-broom-closet pagans, they roll with the punches. She agrees to be the May Queen, even though she's been told May Day is a pagan holiday. He agrees to be the "Laddie."

In other words, they're likable and fairly non-judgmental, for all their loudly, repeatedly professed love for Jesus. So the villagers and their bald-shaven goatee'd landowner wind up having to be cartoonishly evil.

Ah, damn. I'll have to look elsewhere for my pagan kicks.

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1 Comments:

I read The Wicker Tree for Scottish Screen [before that film agency got swallowed into Creative Scotland]. The script - then called Cowboys for Christ, I think - was all over the place. My recommendation: pass!

By Blogger DAVID BISHOP, at August 23, 2011 at 1:47 PM  

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