Majestically shot amongst the mysterious isles of Scotland, disorientating in progressively-bewildering pagan escalation, & philosophical waxing on religious ideals – with an insane plot-twist ending, TWM is xenophobia-personified. 7/10.
Plot Synopsis: Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives on the small Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the report of a missing child. A conservative Christian, the policeman observes the residents’ frivolous sexual displays and strange pagan rituals, particularly the temptations of Willow (Britt Ekland), daughter of the island magistrate, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). The more Sergeant Howie learns about the islanders’ strange practices, the closer he gets to tracking down the missing child.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: Paganism. Once the stuff of pre-Christianity fairy tales, Shaffer has managed to construct a horror vision of the idea as well-built as its monumental kinder-statue. Majestically shot amongst the mysterious isles of Scotland, disorientating in progressively-bewildering pagan escalation, and philosophically-waxing on religious ideologies – with an insane plot-twist endings, TWM’s xenophobic thrills changed horror trajectory.
The imagism and aura. What’s easily the most perplexing and noteworthy feature of The Wicker Man is its bewildering imagery – mostly in how it’s used. We’re unsettled by strange, unholy imagery like temptresses dancing naked around bonfires before jumping through them, navel strings tied to trees growing out of graves, citizens wearing animal masks, and people doing it in the streets seemingly unbothered by the norms of civilization. Shaffer uses this bizarrity to make us uncomfortable from the first moment our hero steps foot on the island – brilliantly juxtaposed against the soothing, stunning mossy hills of majestic Scotland in its opening credits’ flight over – for a phenomenal atmosphere brought to life by impressive technical camerawork with everything from slow-mo shot-cycling to create a distortive effect to POV’s and jump cuts to an eerie Paul Giovanni shanty-filled soundtrack meshing to create an aura of macabre and xenophobic something’s-wrong-with-this that feels like we’re seeing something we shouldn’t be.
The religion/philosophical-waxing. What’s also a nice touch in TWM is the debate on religious ideologies and what is right and wrong depending on who’s holding the looking glass. We are conditioned by society and our Christian-melded government to accept its tenets as ‘normal,’ yet who are we to say? Some ideologies even have similar ideas just put in a slightly different light/view – brilliantly exemplified best by the parthenogenesis scene wherein Sgt. Howie is offended by the sight of naked girls dancing over the fire for conception by fire god without physical sex as heathenistic pagan nonsense in need of Christian idealism – only for Lord Summerisle to point out that the religion he holds so dear is fundamentally based on the notion a pregnant was impregnated by a ghost.. without physical sex. The finale also makes points of people thinking they’re so civilized and above others who think differently – like they need to save them from their own devices – actually being the fools capable of being manipulated and puppeted by the ‘savages’ they underestimate. Who’s really the ‘fool’ here?
The leads and that ending. All these above traits are brought to life by the film’s castings. Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle has rightfully gained icon status as one of the definitive and greatest macabre performances for how flick-of-a-switch he’s able to turn from seemingly benevolent, innocent presence to one hell-bent on inflicting pain and suffering devoid of logic or reasoning with by film’s end. Woodward’s intriguing priest-turned-cop is also (mostly)-good as a vehicle through which we’re taken on a bizarre journey like none other wherein we’re just as susceptible to this island’s strange games and sadistic design as he is simply searching for a missing little girl trying to save a life only for his to be taken. The final plot twist is one of the craziest shot endings I’ve ever seen – wherein the residents of this isle we thought were all handicapped and unstably-cuckoo, were actually so sane they were able to construct a surgical cat-and-mouse game where the ‘hunter becomes the hunted’ – aided by such terrifying imagery in the citizens watching from above the hill and when we finally get our glimpse of The Wicker Man, it’s downright twisted.
The flaws. While almost all of the gripes with this film are washed away triumphantly by the magnificent, visceral ending twist like a powerful wave against the island’s rocky coastline, it does have a few that bother early on. The first act is pretty unscary to be honest – at times feeling more silly than mysterious and horrorful (again made up for by the ending but you do have to get through the film to get to that point.) Sgt. Howie’s incessant droning and off-key bleating in the end also disrupts the high of such immaculate writing to pull of such a shocker finale – I wish he had gone quieter and quicker to fully capitalize on its glory.
Overall, 1973’s The Wicker Man proved that horror can be realism-grounded, but still psychologically-disturbing if given an infusion of imagination. Majestically shot amongst the mysterious isles of Scotland, disorientating in progressively-bewildering pagan escalation, and philosophically-waxing on religious ideologies – with an insane plot-twist endings, TWM’s xenophobic thrills changed horror trajectory.
Official CLC Score: 7/10