The Wicker Man (2006) / Mystery-Horror

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and language
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Kate Beahan, Ellen Burstyn, Frances Conroy, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski, Diane Delano, Aaron Eckhart (cameo), James Franco (cameo), Jason Ritter (cameo)
Director: Neil LaBute
Screenplay: Neil LaBute (based on the novel and original screenplay by Anthony Shaffer)
Review published September 6, 2006

The lesson one can learn in watching a remake fall so far off the mark is this: don't remove the thing(s) that made the original film good.

The original 1973 film of The Wicker Man is a cult classic, and well-revered in some circles as a seminal horror film, but it is largely unknown to most audiences of today.  While a remake probably didn't stand a chance with those that consider the older version a great film, if the main themes and events were to have been faithfully replicated, new audiences would have still probably been riveted by the messages of faith, zealotry, and morality.  Those themes are part and parcel of what makes The Wicker Man an enriching and absorbing experience, and the removal of them would make the film a rudimentary mystery without any relevance.  Sadly, this is precisely what happened with Neil LaBute's (The Shape of Things, Nurse Betty) reinterpretation, which strips away believable religious fervor in favor of farfetched feminist story elements (some will claim it's just more example of LaBute's misogyny) and mild generic horror clichés that leave no lasting impression.

Nicolas Cage (World Trade Center, The Weather Man) stars as Edward Malus, a California Highway Patrol officer, still haunted by the visions he had of a freak accident he witnessed, where he tried to save a mother and daughter from certain death, only to discover their bodies are missing from the wreckage.  Months later, Malus receives a ponderous note from an ex-girlfriend (Beahan, Flightplan) asking him to come out to an obscure island off of the coast of Washington state, where her daughter has apparently gone missing.  Malus travels to the exclusive island, where he is less than welcome, to find a colony of predominantly women (men are mere workers and assistants here) who claim no personal knowledge of the missing girl's existence.  As Malus digs deeper, he discovers just how bizarre the inhabitants of the island truly are, including their potential belief in burning someone alive in order to ensure the continued prosperity of their valued honey production.

Directed and adapted by LaBute, the auteur who has thus far made a career making films about gender roles and their politics, The Wicker Man will probably only merit strong interest by those that have followed LaBute's career than those that have actually read the book or enjoyed the original film.  Even though LaBute continues themes he'd been presenting in films for years, viewers that are unfamiliar will have difficulty maintaining adequate interest in this as a straightforward film, with its bizarre "bee colony" subtext that at times makes little practical sense.  While the change in the main thrust of the religion certainly is interesting, it just isn't presented plausibly enough to overcome disbelief suspension, resulting in a clunky, overreaching climax that lacks the haunting, horrific qualities that left an indelible impression in the 1973 version.

With a clunky delivery, not many scares (or even moments of genuine unease), unconvincing religious depictions, and a lack of emotional connection to it, The Wicker Man is far from impressive in any particular direction to recommend to anyone but LaBute gender role fanatics.  Like the wicker man featured at the end of the film, LaBute sticks what was good about the freethinking original and stuffs it into a bizarre, wooden construct, then proceeds to burn it all to Hell in the pursuit of his own misguided ideals.  Your money and two hours of your time are not worth the sacrifice.

Qwipster's rating:

©2006 Vince Leo