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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Review: The Wicker Man

Director: Robin Hardy

Screenplay: Anthony Shaffer

Year: 1973

With the recent interest in folk horror and after the successful run of Ari Aster's second movie "Midsommar", comments about the similarities with "The Wicker Man" came quickly. As what happened with the debut of Jordan Peele as a director in "Get Out" and how many people criticized it by considering it a copy of “The Stepford Wives”, “Midsommar” was also considered a “The Wicker Man” copycat. Although both pairs hold unquestionable similarities, my question to the people who labeled them as copies is: what movies did you watch?

In “The Wicker Man”, a British policeman arrives at an isolated island after receiving notice of a missing child. After arriving at the island, he quickly picks up the hypersexualized behavior of the inhabitants, as well as how it seems like they are all in agreement to hide the truth about the child's disappearance. Determined to find the child, he continues searching and finds that what is happening on the island is something he could have never imagined.

When talking about the folk horror subgenre, “The Wicker Man” always comes up as one of the pioneers and responsible for its success. Which could be considered as the most important work from director Robin Hardy, “The Wicker Man” is one of the first (or the first), in using the image of a community that seems to live in peace and harmony, but that hides many secrets. The success of this formula can be validated by the popularity and the success achieved by the movie, as well as the subgenre.

More than 45 years after its release and comparing it to "Midsommar", which was released about two years ago, "The Wicker Man" feels shy in what it proposes. Of course, you have to consider the time in which it was released and the little influence that existed in the genre, but after seeing the disturbing visuals that Aster presents in his entry to folk horror, "The Wicker Man" lacks that visceral and impactful element in its visuals.

In its plot, both movies are drastically different. The similarities both hold are that they take place in a community with neopagan beliefs, manipulating the protagonist by the community members, and a final sacrifice consumed by fire, but this is where the similarities end. While "Midsommar" focuses on the problems of a toxic relationship, "The Wicker Man" confronts religious topics, life perspectives, and what's right or wrong. We continuously see the protagonist Howie (Edward Woodward; “Breaker Morant”) clashing with the behavior of people in the island and mainly with their leader Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee; “Star Wars Episode II and III”); this last the most interesting of the movie thanks to the excellent acting of both. 

"The Wicker Man" is considered a horror movie classic and with good reason. It is not scary, but its eccentricity and originality gave way to popularizing the folk horror genre. However, the film lacks that disturbing factor beyond the revelation of the community’s real intentions. More than 40 years later, Ari Aster built upon what "The Wicker Man" offered to, instead of copying it as some claim, use it as an influence and tackle its weaknesses, resulting in a superior movie.

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