Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Film Review - The Wicker Man

Robin Hardy's 1973 film The Wicker Man, is a cult classic full to the brim with symbolism and theories from the classic directors very own mind. The story follows that of Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a strongly religious officer of the law who is given the case of missing girl Rowan Morrison (Gerry Cowper), a young resident on the eerie yet joyous island of 'Summerisle'. Not long after beginning his inspection on the foreign lands, Sergeant Howie soon discovers the island is rife with outlandish religious beliefs and questionable ideals, controlled at the helm by the compelling character of Lord Summerisle, played magnificently by the late Christopher Lee, a performance that has gone on to be described as "imaculately polite" (Robey, 2015) by critics. After countless loose ends and mysterious turns in his ever confusing missing persons case, Sergeant Howie finally strikes gold, in the form of an ancient pagan ritual that requires the participation of a sacrifice, culminating in a truly 70's style climax. The Wicker Man is a film that upon viewing, can easily fall into the 'conversation worthy' category of classic cinema, whether it be the wonderfully eerie musical numbers that accompany the scenes of pagan rituality, the bold displays of religion that teeter between showing it in a positive light or the ways in which the film has most definitely gone on to inspire such films as Edgar Wright's 2007 film Hot Fuzz, there certainly is something to be talked about within Hardy's Classic.

Fig 1: The Wicker Man, Movie Poster

Throughout the entirety of The Wicker Man, scenes consistently and uncomfortably play out on the verge of becoming a full frontal musical. Whether it be strange pagan rituals, the excavation of old coffins or hypnotic Morris dancing, Hardy managed to find a musical number to accompany each. By doing this, Hardy and his creative team were able to create a consistent sense of unease throughout the film, after all there's nothing creepier than watching a pagan ritual being accompanied by the high pitched chants of a Scottish troop. This combination of picturesque locations, fairy-tale style musical numbers and pagan rituals all contributes to the creation of an atmosphere that constantly causes the audience to feel as if something terrible is hiding around the corner, just waiting to take this unique motion picture down an alley they never thought it would care to venture.

Because of this strange sense of flowing story that the musical numbers seem to create, The Wicker Man feels strangely paced. For a film that is a cross between a thriller and a horror, it seems oddly predictable, yet remains utterly perplexing none the less. This theatrical infused pacing really helps to give the film a sense of direction in times when the plot begins to put the brakes on slightly. Because of the story decisions the film takes early on in the film, sending Sergeant Howie down different paths, The Wicker Man can at times feel slightly repetitive, continuously going around in circles as the Sergeant struggles to put clues together. However, these slightly dull aspects of the film are picked up as musical numbers are brought in, continuously pushing the story forward and keeping the attention of mystified audiences, for whenever it feels as if scenes are beginning to 'rinse and repeat' as it were, the eerie tracks of the Summerisle folk manage to keep tension and find terror in the more down beat sequences of the film.
Fig 2: The Wicker Man, Screenshot

Finally, one of the more thought provoking ideas that run through the film is this notion of religion serving as a tool that could potentially pollute a community or an individual. There are a number of moments throughout The Wicker Man that cast the idea of strictly following religion in an extremely bad light, possibly hinting metaphorically at the way older generations of the time would possibly be resenting the changing ways of the late 60's and early 70's. An era that has been described as "a decade which saw people choosing to rebel and break away from the gentle, domestic and materialistic way of life prompted by most of the country until that point." (Our Plays, The Bigger Picture, 2015). The Wicker Man was created in a time were change was extremely apparent, individuals were starting to gain a more prominent voice in the growing world and technology was beginning to move forward drastically with the likelihood of a world dependant on electronics becoming an ever more present prospect. Like with any cultural change, there will always be a number of people who are more than willing to resist this growth and keep their possibly back dated views firmly in tact, and it was more than likely this that Hardy was trying to address in his cult classic. With this idea of resentment in mind, it becomes more apparent that this is what The Wicker Man could possibly be attempting to touch upon, bringing Sergeant Howie, the changing ways, into a community that holds back dated and irrelevant values, standing against the growing mind set of the majority.
Fig 3: The Wicker Man, Screenshot

In conclusion, Robin Hardy's 1973 classic, The Wicker Man is a film that has had 'chins wagging' since its release, filled with bold decisions and social commentary that possibly expressed the views and opinions of the legendary director himself. Over the years, other critics have stated that the film "Has seldom been equalled" (Variety Staff, 2008), and one cannot fail to see that this classic has certainly stood the test of time. Hardy's classic tale of an out of town officer coming to solve a problem way out of his comfort zone has definitely remained somewhat of a conversation piece, inspiring countless film makers to take the less obvious route and pushing creative individuals to make decisions that deserve to be talked about, rather than turned to ashes like the wicker man himself.


Our Plays, The Bigger Picture, 2015, Life in 1970's Britain, https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/bushgreen/life-in-1970s-britain/, Accessed on: 05/04/16

Robey, Tim, 2015, The Wicker Man: The final Cut, Review, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/10336602/The-Wicker-Man-The-Final-Cut-review.html, Accessed on: 05/04/16

Variety Staff, 2008, Review: 'The Wicker Man', http://variety.com/1972/film/reviews/the-wicker-man-1200422895/, Accessed on: 05/04/16

Illustration List

Fig 1: Movie Poster, The Wicker Man, http://crypticrock.com/anatomy-of-a-remake-the-wicker-man/, Accessed on: 05/04/16

Fig 2: Screenshot, The Wicker Man, http://wheresthejump.com/jump-scares-in-the-wicker-man-1973/, Accessed on: 05/04/16

Fig 3: Screenshot, The Wicker Man, http://www.goldenagehorror.com/episode-24-the-wicker-man-1973/, Accessed on: 05/04/16


  1. An essay-worthy review Lewis - great stuff!
    Another film which uses music to give a sense of unease and queasiness is 'Dancer in the Dark' starring Bjork... Phil used to show it, but I don't think it is on his timetable this year. Worth a look though, if you get a chance!