The Wicker Man opens when Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) receives an anonymous letter about a young girl, Rowan Morrison (Gerry Cowper), who has gone missing on the remote island of Summerisle, off the coast of Scotland. Howie journeys to the island to investigate the disappearance, but the islanders all say Rowan isn’t from the island and they have never seen her before.
Howie quickly finds evidence that the whole island is lying to him and learns that all of the islanders are actually Pagans and worship the old gods. As a devout Christian, Howie is disturbed by their practices and is convinced that their religion has something to do with Rowan’s disappearance. With an important ritual coming up, Howie has very little time to figure out exactly what is happening on Summerisle.
I don’t think I’ve said WTF as many times during a movie as I did with The Wicker Man. This film is surreal and bizarre. There are so many strange moments in terms of atmosphere and plot development that I cursed at my TV way more than usual, but I mean that in the best possible way. I love when movies can keep me guessing, especially when they get really weird. The Wicker Man delivers on that in every way, so if it doesn’t know much about the movie, go watch it right now. I’m going to be spoiling the film up ahead and this one is better if you know as little as possible before watching it. SPOILERS AHEAD!
I’ve seen a few minutes of the remake of this film, so I was expecting the Pagans to be a bunch of wild, murderous savages. That is not the case. The townsfolk are pretty average people, apart from their unusual customs. This caught me completely off guard, but I liked it. The people of Summerisle were not hostile towards Howie, they just knew he wouldn’t understand their religion. This wasn’t what I expected at all and the movie is much subtler with the thrills and chills because of it, which was a refreshing experience.
Christopher Lee, who can do no wrong in my eyes, plays the antagonist of the film, Lord Summerisle. It’s a masterful performance and I know Lee said it’s one of his favorites. The guy has more charisma than I could have in my wildest dreams. His performance is mysterious, but not over the top, and it’s probably my favorite part of the movie. If you’ve wanted to see Christopher Lee dress as half-man/half-woman and dance around, this is the movie for you.
Finally, the closing scene of this movie is the stuff of legends. We finally get the titular Wicker Man and we watch as Howie gets locked inside and burned alive. The whole finale is pretty brutal. This movie is often called a horror movie, but I don’t really agree with that. It’s a mystery/thriller for the whole movie until we get to the finale. The scene where Howie realizes how doomed he really is is rough and he knows he can’t do anything to save himself. He tries desperately, but we know it’s over. All that’s left is to wonder how it will happen. Then we see the Wicker Man and realize just how bad this is going to be. It’s a phenomenal scene, with Christopher Lee and the rest of the townsfolk dancing around the Wicker Man as it burns. This scene is a masterpiece and a fantastic if brutal, way to end the film.
This is sort of an odd complaint. I can’t tell how we’re supposed to feel about Sergeant Howie. Obviously, he is a good man and does everything he can to save Rowan, but he’s really intolerant of other religions. I don’t know if that’s because in 70’s England every “decent” person was a Christian. I really don’t know. Are we supposed to be disgusted that these people are Pagans? Later on, when the rituals get more disturbing, yes of course we are, but earlier in the film I can’t tell whose side we’re supposed to be on: the Islanders for putting up with Howie’s intolerance, or Howie being disgusted at these heathens. I have no idea. Maybe the point is the Howie is a good man, who has a flaw in his ignorance of other religions. I really don’t have the slightest clue.
The world has changed a lot since 1973. I have a close friend who is Pagan and know it has grown in popularity, so this part of the film hasn’t aged well. It does make Howie a less likable protagonist, but I don’t know if that’s intentional or if it’s because of the different eras. Like I said, an unusual complaint.
The Wicker Man Final Verdict: 9/10: Great
Confusing protagonist aside, The Wicker Man is a wonderful film with subtle thrills and an intelligent plot. Christopher Lee is phenomenal, as per usual. This movie subverted my expectations in a great way and I loved how bizarre and surreal it was. The Wicker Man has absolutely got it going on.