The Wicker Man: 1973 folk-horror endures to this day as a masterpiece of the form

Free love and folk-singing hides a dark secret on the Scottish island of Summerisle in a film that’s bracing, exciting and downright funny

By Shaad D’Souza

Have you seen the horror film about a gormless, well-intentioned westerner lured to a lush, sparsely populated isle in search of meaning, only to find paganism, unbridled sexual politics, folk dancing and abject violence?

I’m not talking about Midsommar, the 2019 folk-horror hit by auteur Ari Aster that freaked out audiences with its broad-daylight senicide and twee ritualism. I’m referring to a film that came out nearly 50 years earlier, and which often out-weirds and out-wilds its younger cousin despite containing none of the gore or violence. I’m talking about The Wicker Man, the 1973 British horror-musical that popularised the folk-horror genre, and endures to this day as a masterpiece of the form.

Directed by Robin Hardy, The Wicker Man is a strange but essential B-movie artefact, one which has, over the past 20 years, been reclaimed as a masterpiece of British cinema and now has a home on prestige streaming platform Mubi. Starring Edward Woodward and iconic 60s actress and sex symbol Britt Ekland, the film follows police sergeant Neil Howie who receives an anonymous tip that a young girl has gone missing on the far-off Scottish island of Summerisle.

When he arrives, he finds that he’s bitten off far more than he can chew. Not only are the island’s residents cheerily working together to obfuscate the details of what happened to the girl, they also seem to have given up on Christianity entirely – worshipping pagan gods and conducting a sinister masked procession on May day.

The devoutly Christian sergeant is appalled – villagers roaming naked and having sex in the lush fields, churchyards overrun with wildlife and entirely devoid of Christian symbology, school lessons on the phallic origins of the maypole, and a suave, smartly dressed lord, played by Christopher Lee, who rules in place of an elected official. Most sinister of all is that despite their wide grins and penchant for song and dance, Howie is pretty certain the missing girl has been given up as a human sacrifice in exchange for an abundant harvest.Devoid of any “traditional” horror devices – jump scares, gore and the like – The Wicker Man instead asks viewers to draw their own conclusions about the traditions of Summerisle. (As with Midsommar, I found the supposedly barbaric villagers to be sympathetic and perversely reasonable, but the film allows for any number of interpretations while still being straightforward and accessible, one of its greatest formal triumphs.) What transpires over the course of the film is unsettling and often bizarre, but also poses salient questions about tradition, judgment and moral relativism. And it does it all in a breezy, evenly paced 88 minutes. Although sometimes arcane in its references, I cannot express how bracing, exciting and downright funny a first watch of The Wicker Man is.

Source: The Wicker Man: 1973 folk-horror endures to this day as a masterpiece of the form

Movie Review: ‘The Boat That Rocked’ (aka “Pirate Radio”)

Richard Curtis is one of the most successful British filmmakers of all time. His films, particularly “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994) and “Love Actually” (2003) remain hugely popular twenty years after their release.
With a few exceptions (2005’s The Girl in the Cafe, 1997’s Mr. Bean) THE HOBBLEDEHOY seriously loathe Curtis’ insincere dreck, and this is why finding this scathing review of Curtis’ 2009 “The Boat That Rocked” was a gift from the Gods of Criticism. Bless you, reviewer Colin Edwards.
Read on! Rock on!

By Colin Edwards

Richard Curtis’ abomination ‘The Boat That Rocked’ or ‘Pirate Radio’ (2009) tells the story of… actually that’s the thing — it doesn’t tell a story. Of any kind. Except from maybe that of how far Curtis’ talents have atrophied and completely turned in on themselves over the years. This is, by far, the worst movie I’ve seen in 2019.

Set in 1966 it ostensibly concerns the pirate radio era of Britain in the sixties but seems more focused on how a teenager called Carl can lose his virginity even if it means resorting to sexual abuse. And that’s it. Seriously, there is NOTHING more to this movie than that; it’s simply two hours of ersatz nostalgia and, as is par for the course with Curtis’ movies, shockingly retrograde and distasteful views on sex and “love”. Sure, there’s some badly thought out and underdeveloped stuff about Kenneth Branagh’s nasty, stuffy Government minister wanting to close the pirate station down (you can tell he’s a nasty, stuffy Government minister because he only listens to classical music) as well as the arrival of a rival DJ (Rhys Ifans) that threatens to introduce some drama or even some fucking actual narrative to the movie, but nothing comes of any of these whatsoever leaving the story, literally, adrift at sea.

Pirate Radio

Is that the “joke”? Am I meant to be laughing now? Christ

The only aspect of the film more lacking, more lazy, than the plotting is the humour. This is a movie for people that find the names Bob or Twatt (of course, it’s another nasty civil servant called that) funny because, you know, Curtis has never relied on that particular crutch before. I also wish some would tell Richard Curtis that there is nothing, nor ever has been, remotely funny about Bill Nighy dancing, something that seems to be crowbarred into one of his movies whenever possible. Is it because he’s middle-aged and somewhat posh so the idea of him dancing is inherently hilarious? That’s a pinnacle of British comedy? Is that the “joke”? Am I meant to be laughing now? Christ.

Oh, and it’s not just Bill Nighy that’s dancing as the movie is constantly inter-cut with shots of the “average” person –nurses, grocers, mothers — immediately dropping what they should be legally doing to dance on down to the music. It is grating and infuriating only five minutes in but after two hours of it starts to induce murderous rage like a sort of choreography version of Chinese water-torture. What kind of fantasy world does Curtis live in anyway where his characters always do this? Then again I guess you’d be permanently dancing too if you’d pulled off the comedy crime of the century of getting paid vast sums of money for simply churning out unwatchable shit like Curtis has.

And don’t even get me started on the tone of the film which aims for the sex, drugs and rock and roll hedonism of the 60s but actually comes across more like an appalling 70s school-disco DJ’d by a serial sex-offender eying up the kids. Plus, the fact that Curtis is oddly puritanical about it all oddly compounds matters, almost as though he was too self-aware that he was also the guy who wrote ‘Four Weddings’ whilst writing the script so knew he couldn’t go too far, which just compounds the insincerity and the other issues inherent here; this is not a move to trust. This is a cynically calculated film which is utterly ironic as there is zero intelligence functioning here in the slightest.

The only aspect of the movie worse than Curtis’ writing is his directing which is so awful I genuinely can’t think of a way to describe how appalling it is. “Terrible”? Yeah, I guess that’ll do and is succinct enough. The directing is terrible and is enough to make you sea-sick with choices that are baffling in their idiocy and lack of aesthetic result or purpose. Hopefully it might be saved by a decent editor… oh no, the editing’s fucking awful as well and is simply an aleatorical process. Did the editor use John Cage’s dice system of chance to piece the images in this movie together because it sure looks like it? I don’t think a single shot related to any of the ones that followed or preceded it. It’s a mess.

The music choices are so on-the-nose you could wear them as a pince-nez and despite the strenuous nostalgic reaching back for the 60s that’s so graceless you feel the movie’s going to pull a hernia, it feels way more like the spirit of the 90s when Brit-pop and TFI Friday butt-fucked the zombie corpse of the Summer of Love back into the grave. Maybe Curtis isn’t nostalgic for the sixties but actually for the nineties, the period when people thought he had talent and seemed to look forward to one of his film being released?

The film ends on a decidedly creepy note that’s sort of a cross between ‘Titanic’ and ‘Confessions of A Window Cleaner’ except less fun and more tragic as we are bombarded with even more shots of people dancing in a trance of forced joviality and it is scary as hell as this movie has the cold, insincere smirk of a psychopath that could turn on us if we refused to join in the charade. There is nothing genuinely human here at all.

Source: ‘The Boat That Rocked’ or — Motion (picture) Sickness?

Film Review: The Gory, Gorgeous Sundance Horror “You Won’t Be Alone”

Goran Stolevski hauntingly explores what it means to be an outsider who yearns for human connection. That said: If you can’t handle a little disembowelment, proceed with caution.

By Laura Bradley

A strange kind of poetry lies in the bloody, scratched-up heart of Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t Be Alone.

The folk horror film about a young witch, which premiered Saturday at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, unfolds in broken language and cautious gestures punctuated by staccato slaps—the kind of callousness that can make the world feel like an interminable, barren pit. But as our taloned protagonist breaks away from the desperate grasp of two overbearing, warring mothers to body swap her way through different ways of living, her jumbled words take on a certain lyricism. Contradictions run through this gorgeously gory film’s veins, its pulse beating through the repetition of two words: And yet, and yet, and yet…


We first meet our young “chosen” witch, Nevena, as an infant in 19th century Macedonia whose mother is frantically pleading with a charred witch bent on taking her away. Playing up the burden of child-rearing and offering up all the other infants in the village doesn’t work, so Nevena’s mother makes another offer to Old Maid Maria: If the witch lets her raise the child, she can take her once she becomes a teenager. That way, she reasons, the witch will not be alone in her old age. Continue reading

Godland review: a priest’s mad mission across Iceland

Hlynur Pálmason’s breathtaking portrait of blind faith and evangelism in late 19th-century Iceland is a film of sturdy and stunning beauty.

By Caspar Salmon

After the international acclaim for his second film A White, White Day (2019), Hlynur Pálmason returns with Godland, a film of extraordinary craft and power. The film’s considerable virtues, which range from breathtaking landscape photography to inhabited performances from a flawless cast, show Pálmason to be working at the height of his powers.

Drawing inspiration from late-19th century photos of Icelandic countryfolk taken in a remote outcrop of the island, Godland centres on Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), a Danish priest and amateur photographer who has undertaken a trip across Iceland to establish a parish by the sea. To assist him in his arduous journey, Lucas enlists a Danish-Icelandic translator, various horse-boys, and a rough-edged guide, Ragnar (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), with whom the mild-mannered preacher enters into a low-simmering feud. The film essentially contains two separate halves, of which the first is the group’s difficult procession through churning rivers and over icy mountains, while the second takes place in the tiny village where Lucas and his remaining acolytes wash up. The film’s subject matter recalls Oscar and Lucinda a little, There Will Be Blood somewhat too, for its tale of single-minded settlers driven to a species of madness. In the case of Godland (the title is bitterly ironic), the crisis comes from the dogma of faith rubbing up against the imperious lawlessness of nature.

Continue reading

Lola: Impressive debut film from Irish director destined for cult status

Singular debut feature from Irish film-maker Andrew Legge that’s like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice as written by HG Wells

By Donald Clarke

After 20 years of experimental but always entertaining short films about the shape of time and how we may recapture it, Andrew Legge stretches his singular aesthetic into an equally singular feature. Lola perhaps neglects its core personal story as it works hard on the filigree of outer decoration, but, careering home at a breathless 79 minutes, the film cannot be faulted for invention or originality. A cult awaits the Irish film-maker.

The film purports to be composed of footage found at a Sussex mansion inhabited, in the prewar years, by the amateur boffins Martha and Thomasina Hanbury (Stefani Martini and Emma Appleton). Their story suggests The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as written by HG Wells. Toiling in a Mitfordian clutter, they construct a device – dubbed Lola – that can capture radio broadcasts from the future.

Showing the right sort of taste for the protagonists of a science-fiction film, they fall for David Bowie’s music before that artist was even born. They also stan The Kinks and, in a moment that briefly recalls Danny Boyle’s very different Yesterday, introduce an excited world prematurely to (no, not Lola, though the reference is cute) You Really Got Me.

The Hanburys, serious-minded folks, end up devoting most of their time to helping out the Allied war effort with intelligence that beats even that coming via the Enigma machines. Here is where The Sorcerer’s Apprentice kicks in. In its second half the story veers into one of the more familiar byways of alternative history. Constructed with Neil Hannon, whose music effectively captures both familiar musical shapes and genres altered by the young scientists’ well-meaning temporal meddling, the alternative British pop nightmare is worthy of Ken Russell’s Tommy or Peter Watkins’s undervalued Privilege. Few English films have been quite so English. No properly Irish film has hitherto come close.

If there is a downside to the admirable urge to pack so much parallel history into such a small space, it is that the collage somewhat overpowers the women’s personal journey.

Working with vintage film cameras and period lenses, the cinematographer Oona Menges creates images that seem infused with rationed cigarette smoke. But Martha and Thomasina struggle to assert themselves over the assumed click and clank of mid-century projectors.

For all that, Lola seems likely to register with amenable audiences. Legge deserves a second crack at the soonest opportunity.

Source: Lola: Impressive debut film from Irish director destined for cult status