It was almost ten years after the film was released that The Wicker Man began to get the acclaim that it deserved. Released as a supporting picture to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (could you imagine a better double bill?) is stars Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie, a policeman who has been called to investigate the disappearance of a young girl on the island of Summerisle. On that Island lives a pagan community, led by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), whose attitudes towards sex repulse the conservative Christian Howie.
A stunning, unnerving atmosphere is masterly maintained by Robin Hardy who expertly leaves the audience in the dark as much as Howie is about the true intentions of natives. This builds up the atmosphere to the film’s unforgettable conclusion (which is somewhat ruined by the DVD cover). Led by an excellent performance from Edward Woodward The Wicker Man works as an interesting character study as Conservative Christian Howie struggles to come to terms with the Pagan’s beliefs, and free loving attitude towards sex which go against Howie’s beliefs, much to his bafflement and disgust. Christopher Lee’s menacing performance puts him high on a plinth of memorable horror villains, and the film’s conclusion is a highlight of the horror genre. Unearthly, unreal and chilling The Wicker Man is cult classic.
The Veil stars Jessica Alba as a documentary filmmaker who wants to find out what happened to the members of Heaven’s Vail who all supposedly committed suicide in a bid of devotion to their leader Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane). In order to do this, Maggie Price (Alba) recruits the help of the only known survivor Sarah Hope (Lily Rabe). Clearly based on American cult leader Jim Jones, the film takes a supernatural turn rather than focusing on what would have been a billion times more unnerving and scary. The fact that Jim Jones managed to convince over 900 people to commit suicide is far more disturbing and unnerving. Unfortunately, director Phil Joanou takes the supernatural route, but despite that the film is enjoyable enough, the performances are good enough (Thomas Jane is in full scenery chewing mode) and the scares scary enough for The Veil to be a mostly enjoyable film.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (MMMM for short) has been dubbed a psychological thriller, but the film is not a thriller in the traditional sense as it is a film that relies on an increasingly unnerving atmosphere that makes one feel very uneasy. The flashback and present day strands of the narrative are cut so well together that at first one is not entirely sure of where they are, and at first this can be slightly disorientating, also one is never sure if Martha’s flashbacks are real or a product of her imagination.
First time director Sean Durkin does a stunning job at making the audience feel paranoid making MMMM work staggeringly well as a horror film (but the film still remains more of psychological thriller), however there is just that one occasion where MMMM slips into outright horror. Led by a superb performance by Lizzie Olsen, who nails every emotion from depression to paranoia, Martha Marcy May Marlene is tense, gripping stuff made even more uncomfortable by the charming and charismatic but very sinister performance by the superb John Hawkes. The ending is abrupt and ambiguous, but leaves the audience almost begging for more. There are hundreds of thousands of questions that the audience asks, but the lack of answers makes one more confused by events on screen.