The Wicker Man is a 1973 British thriller or horror film set on a remote Scottish island.
A cop receives an anonymous letter that a little girl on the island has gone missing. He takes a boat to the island to investigate. The longer he’s there and the more people he talks to, the more suspicious he becomes of foul play, and the more confused and appalled he becomes at what kind of bizarro world he’s stepped into.
The people on the island appear to have reverted to some pre-Christian paganism involving nature worship, polytheism, ritual, and debauchery. They behave in ultra-conformist, cultlike fashion. No one seems willing or able to give him straight answers; everything they do and say seems coordinated and scripted.
The cop seems more shocked by the fact that they’re not Christian than anything else, as he is quite the hardcore Christian himself, Anglican presumably.
His boat stops working and he is stuck continuing his investigation alone.
I know this is the 1970s, but could a Scottish island really be so remote that there are no telephones, a cop from the mainland wouldn’t have any kind of radio or communication device, there’d be no access other than by boat, and a cop wouldn’t be missed if he went to investigate something there and didn’t come back?
Nor are there any cops or responsible officials of any kind on the island itself that he can consult. The island is evidently governed in some sort of feudal manner by “Lord Summerisle” (Christopher Lee).
But if you accept the premise that a cop could be this isolated on a Scottish island, and the people could all be of some pagan cult like this, the story mostly hangs together. I didn’t notice major holes in the logic. It’s not always clear exactly what’s going on, but that’s more because it’s a mystery than because it’s inherently nonsensical. After the fact, it makes sense.
It’s mostly a well-told, engrossing story. The various twists and turns are not predictable (at least they weren’t to me), and it’s a satisfying rather than frustrating mystery because you understand more and more as it goes on, and it’s pretty much all explained by the end.
There are some unconventional stylistic devices and odd characters and scenes that have this movie at times walking a thin line between a solid unnerving horror film, and a “so bad it’s almost good” exercise in camp, what from Christopher Lee mincing around in a kilt, to characters occasionally bursting into song like they think they’re in a musical.
The unconventional elements mostly didn’t work for me, but I can understand why The Wicker Man has a cult following (so to speak). It does take some chances here and there and risk silliness to be different. You’re certainly not going to see a lot of movies like it.
This film impressed me enough that with a mediocre or worse ending, I probably would still have deemed it a no worse than average movie. In fact, though, it has quite a nice zinger of an ending. One that sticks with you.
On the whole The Wicker Man is worth a recommendation, more so if you like, or at least can tolerate, a little weird artsiness or camp in a horror movie.