The Wicker Man (1973) Review
“Flesh to touch…Flesh to burn! Don’t keep the Wicker Man waiting!”
Synopsis: A police sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl who the townsfolk claim never existed.
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The Wicker Man feels more like a slow burn detective movie than horror up until the very end, which only underscores the final, bleak moments. With its careful attention to real rites and traditions, the film provides a nuanced look at what paganism in current-day Europe might entail – and how that might conflict with the sensibilities of a largely Christian nation. The central conflict and question of the movie thus becomes not only what happened to Rowan Morrison, but the validity of traditional beliefs in a modern world.
The man at the center of this conflict, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), is a deeply religious man sent to a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. He finds the island steeped in pagan traditions that offend him, and butts heads with the amiable Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) even as he is stonewalled by residents. But each layer of truth he uncovers only leads him deeper into the mystery surrounding the island until he reaches horrifying understanding.
The dynamic between Howie and Summerisle is complex and fascinating. It’s easy to empathize with the goals of both men, but Howie is particularly captivating, given the urgent nature of his quest. As the audience, we explore the island with him, similarly confused and discomfited by unfamiliar traditions. Many of the events that upset Howie may not provoke such a visceral reaction in the audience, but only underscore the sense of wrongness pervading the isle.
The Wicker Man is well-crafted and well-told, with one exception: the cinematography is not on par with the quality of the rest of the movie. It’s very basic and uninspired, which is disappointing considering the strength in other aspects of the film. With a better cinematographer, I might have given this movie a perfect grade – but I found the camerawork distracting. Despite that, it’s still an excellent movie, and worthy of its place among classic horror films.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: A-
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