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Young Christians Beth and Steve, a gospel singer and her cowboy boyfriend, leave Texas to preach door-to-door in Scotland . When, after initial abuse, they are welcomed with joy and elation to Tressock, the border fiefdom of Sir Lachlan Morrison, they assume their hosts simply want to hear more about Jesus. How innocent and wrong they are.Written by
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Did we really think writer/director Robin Hardy could better "The Wicker Man", that masterpiece of horror, which along with William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" defined the genre in the 1970's? It was a tall order, but he did come up with one surprise - he more or less repeated himself.
A couple of born-again Christians, 'Cowboys for Christ', Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) and Steve Thompson (Henry Garrett), cross the Atlantic on a mission to spread the Lord's word to the spiritually challenged flock in Scotland. After meeting a local laird, Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish), they are directed to Tressock, a community that has an infertility problem caused by a leak from a nuclear power plant.
The innocent couple become central to the town's May Day festivities, involving human sacrifice to get the community's seed germinating again. All conspire against them except for Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks), the head groom on Sir Lachlan's estate.
We know how it will end because there was no mercy for Edward Woodward in the first version so we don't expect any for Beth and Steve in this one.
The problem with knowing the basic premise is that the only tension comes in seeing how the ritual will be carried out. However, for some reason, Hardy holds back - we see nothing that compares to the anguish of Edward Woodward locked in his blazing wicker prison in the 1973 film. The Wicker Tree itself is an artistic looking number, but it doesn't project the menace of the giant wicker cage of the original.
Where the "The Wicker Tree" breaks from "The Wicker Man" is in the attempts at black humour; the naive Beth and Steve are treated as somewhat comic characters, as is Beame, Sir Lachlan's head man, who is involved in a number of jocular bits of business such as being stabbed up the kilt with a broken glass; it's hard to know quite how to take this movie as it changes mood at odd times.
The film doubles up on a couple of elements from the original, namely the number of sacrifices and the amount of nudity. Honeysuckle Weeks sheds her "Foyle's War" khakis and everything else for a couple of airy romps, including a brave effort in a chilly Scottish stream.
Although it's nice to see Christopher Lee back for a little homage, the biggest problem with "The Wicker Tree" is that it pays just too much homage to the original movie. The most important sacrifice of all would have entailed letting go of the old plot and heading off in a new direction.
Instead of a lop-sided remake, maybe a follow-up to the original would have been a better option - by 2011, the number of disappearances on Summerisle would have reached epic proportions with the supply of wicker also running dangerously low. At least that approach may have provided a few surprises.
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