The Wicker Man (1973) 4/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 87.6
Genre: Horror
Duration: 88 mins
Director: Robin Hardy
Stars: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento

If one reason why we have been given so few uniquely original films is because derivation is a natural feature of how we think, then film makers such as Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer deserve all the more credit for breaking free of our mental shackles and fashioning this dizzyingly novel and utterly enthralling masterpiece. Edward Woodward plays devout Christian, Sergeant Howie, whose jurisdiction includes some of the outlying islands off the Scottish coast. When he receives word a young girl has gone missing from Summerisle, an isolated island where the inhabitants long ago eschewed their beliefs in Christianity in favour of more ancient pagan ways, Howie heads off to the island in his sea plane. It’s not long before he suspects foul play which he believes is wrapped up in customs that disturb his Christian sensibilities.

The Wicker Man is a nuanced film that cleverly and playfully examines the subject of religion by contrasting the island’s traditions with more conventional ways. The action unfolds to Paul Giovanni’s seminal folk soundtrack that sets the film’s tone perhaps better than any other score has done before or since. Recounting the rites of their religion, the songs are otherworldly, feel incredibly authentic, and wondefylly capture their seeming irreverence for things Christianity holds sacred. Such is the calibre of the music, that at many points it feels like we are watching a musical as the island’s inhabitants belt out one pagan number after another with gusto. Hardy’s direction is solid to the hilt and he brings the island and its people to vibrant life like few other horror film makers would choose to do. He almost unassumingly contrasts Summerisle’s perfectly normal features with the abnormal behaviour of the island folk so as to make the island oddly and quite sinisterly inviting. Shaffer’s script is as clever and mature as they come and there isn’t a word out of place.

The final jewel in crown of The Wicker Man is the acting. Woodward is perfect as the straight-laced and increasingly incredulous sergeant and he is matched every step of the way by Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle. Lee seemed to intuitively understand the world which Shaffer envisaged and it is through his eloquently delivered speeches that the soul of Summerisle is conveyed to us. It all builds up to one of the most memorable and chilling finales that will leave you fittingly unsettled. Masterful.

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