The Wicker Man

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Since I was fourteen years old The Wicker Man (1973) has been one of my favorite films. I remember getting the home video release from Anchor Bay that came in a wooden case and just being blown away by what a cool object that was. So obviously seeing The Wicker Man in a theater last night was a tremendous experience for me. I was a cinephile in heaven.

From the moment of its release the “cult” around The Wicker Man has continued to grow. At this point The Wicker Man is so popular that it hardly seems to qualify as a “cult classic” the way that it did when I was growing up. As Kier-La Janisse points out in the excellent Woodlands Dark & Days Bewitched (2021) documentary, The Wicker Man is one of those films that paved the way for the Folk Horror sub-genre. Artists and critics like Janisse have been analyzing and advocating The Wicker Man for so long that there’s practically an encyclopedia’s worth of criticism regarding the film available to those interested.

However, watching The Wicker Man in 2023 is very different than when I was in middle school. Watching this classic film today I couldn’t help but to think about how shallow all of its twenty-first century imitators are. From The Wicker Man (2006) to Midsommar (2019) the power and magic of the original The Wicker Man seems lost. The Wicker Man (2006) is an easy enough to dismiss dumpster-fire of a remake but Midsommar, with its critical success and avid fans is more distressing.

Midsommar takes the concept of the original The Wicker Man and turns it into a gorier, lazier, spectacle that condemns cultural tourism. This redressing offers little of the ingenuity and none of the sincerity of Robin Hardy’s film. It seems that these days the films coming from the major production companies are all part of an endless cycle of aesthetic cannibalism; like some serpent devouring its own tail.

Which is to say that Midsommar is to The Wicker Man what Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania (2023) is to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only a bit more subtle. Hollywood has always re-made the best movies or recycled the best ideas. What seems different now is that there isn’t as much talent behind the camera to give re-imaginings like Midsommar enough originality to stand on their own two feet. If one has seen The Wicker Man it is almost impossible to like Midsommar as much as those who have never set eyes on Edward Woodward set ablaze.

The majority of the good Folk Horror films that I have seen came out between The Wicker Man and the mid-nineties. Kier-La Janisse’s authoritative survey of the genre supports this as well, essentially casting films like Midsommar as a long delayed cash-in on a genre that had already reached its zenith. Undoubtedly it is an admiration for The Wicker Man that has motivated today’s filmmakers to take a stab at their own version of the classic. But it seems, based on films such as Midsommar, that these filmmakers were poor students and never quite grasped what made Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man a masterpiece.