Robin Hardy's 1973 film The Wicker Man is one of my favourite films and so it might see unfair to draw comparisons with it. On the other hand, The Wicker Tree is written and directed by Hardy and described on the back of the blu ray as a re-imagining of the original film, so I'd say it's asking for it.
The film comes across as cooked up from off-cuts from the earlier, vastly superior work - whether in plot terms (devout Christian meets nasty fate at hands of pagans), cast (Christopher Lee is wheeled out for a 90 second flashback in front of a bucolic background of a staggering lack of realism and yet conveys more presence, humour and character in those 90 seconds than are to be found in the remaining 90 minutes of the film) or even costume, given that Graham McTavish appears to be wearing one of Sir Lee's cast off jackets.
The changes made from the original are hackneyed and uninteresting. Edward Woodward's detailed and interesting "Christian copper" is replaced by a pair of off-the-peg evangelical Texan cutouts. She's Beth, an ex-Britney Spears-type singer who regrets her past and he's a cowboy who - actually, all you can say about him is he's a cowboy. A fact rammed home by the number of people who refer to him as "the cowboy" and the fact that he wears a Stetson in bed. He is a man so stupid that even when the entire village advanced menacingly on him while stripping naked and singing about the blood of the lamb, he's still struggling with the idea that he might be in trouble. It comes across as entirely credible that he only starts to suspect once sundry extras start to chow down on his sweetbreads.
Meanwhile, Christopher Lee's politely obstructive Lord of the Manor is replaced by Jacqueline Leonard and Graham McTavish as a couple who might as well wear placards reading "We're sinister, okay?". During an early concert by the two missionaries, McTavish and Leonard stand at the back of the church making ominous comments about "They're perfect" and generally coming across as a pair of second-tier Bond villains planning an evening's wife-swapping before getting back to the day job.
And then there's the comedy Scots butler, first seen bellowing in the broadest accent possible about being "up to my oxters in shite". Add in Lolly, solely characterised as "woman who likes sex" and the village policeman, solely characterised as "man who likes sex and is policeman in a village" and it appears Robin Hardy was not at home to detailed characterisation when writing this. It all rather rams home what we owe to Anthony Shaffer for his script for the original film.
Briefly the film does try to address contemporary matters, as it becomes clear that McTavish is head of the local nuclear power company - a fact made clear when he gives a press conference attended by three extras clutching notebooks in the vain hope of looking like journalists. All of which is followed by infodump heaven in a conversation which can be summed up with:
"As you know, we're all infertile because of the nuclear accident we had ten years ago."
"Yes, we are."
Anyway, as the film progresses with double entendres-a-gogo and reaches a no doubt intended to be thrilling climax with a scantily clad heroine running down the street, pursued by the butler, who's doing a funny walk because she's damaged his knackers, while up at the castle, everyone's stripping off for an orgy, it becomes clear that Hardy's decided the ideal style for a remake is '70's British sex comedy. Confessions in the Missionary Position, perhaps. Or Adventures of a Scots Laird. It's not often that I compare something to the oeuvre of Robin Askwith and find it lacking, but it happened today.
So, with the Unknown Cowboy not only dead, but also lunch, Beth is brought news of his death. "Steve's dead?" she quavers, with the air of someone wondering "How can they tell?", while surprising all of us with the fact that he had a name. She then escapes via a convenient small child who claims to know a secret way out. To say that anyone who remembers the climax of The Wicker Man will have a sense of deja vu here is a slight understatement. Sure enough, the conveniently placed child turns out to be part of the brilliant master plan. To be precise, he's there in case Beth doesn't drink the poisoned milk because the castle cat gets to it first and then breaks the glass in its death throes; after which, she uses the broken glass to slash the butler's knackers and finally lobs the Lord of the Manor onto a sacrifical bonfire, sets light to it and burns him alive. You might think that it'd be less complicated to put the milk in a plastic cup or perhaps have a bucket of water next to the bonfire in case of accidents. On the other hand, it's almost worth it for the scene where the Lady of the Manor comes to breakfast brandishing an awesomely fake cat corpse by its tail and then casually rams it into a waste paper basket, from which its tail protrudes for the rest of the scene.
The fact that this is a highlight of the film speaks for itself, rather.
FOr any gluttons for punishment, here's a link to my review of the 2006 Wicker Man remake. http://magister.dreamwidth.org/16319.html