(Release Date: September 1, 2006)
So what's wrong with the Remake? On paper, it still seems like a pretty good idea. A modern-day remake of a great cult classic with academy award winners in the lead and that same shocking ending... Sounds okay. Unless the concept of "leaving well enough alone" comes into play. The Wicker Man was a great horror movie that didn't need to be improved upon. That said, none of the additions or changes to be found in writer/ director LaBute's work could be considered "improvements". Most are arbitrary at best, not advancing or enhancing the themes in any reasonable way. Many are downright ridiculous, and give the impression that LaBute felt that he could do better.
There is very little doubt that LaBute is a fan of The Wicker Man, and this shows in the various direct translations that are written all over the film. Once or twice a direct carbon-copy shot, or a barely changed line reminds one very much of Hardy's original. There's even a "Missing" poster in the police station that features the mug shot of Edward Woodward himself! Strangely, they fall into the quagmire of an overall hackneyed script that shows the evils of womankind... hey, Neil, did you just get out of a divorce or something?
After a brief, expository opening (that actually features a walk-on part by Aaron Eckhart), we're introduced to the successor to Woodward's "Sergeant Howie" in the form of Nicolas Cage's Edward Malus. Malus, a CHiP Dip rides his motorbike into history when he fails to rescue a little girl and her mother from a fiery death in their station wagon. See, the little girl throws her dolly out of the open window, Malus goes to get it, the car is hit by a Mack Truck, Malus fails to break the station wagon's back window and rescue them in time. Uh... hang on... She throws the doll out of her open window and he has to break in? Look, I realize the car is on fire (I saw Audrey Rose too, Neil), but she's six inches from an open window... dude...
Anyway, soon, during his obligatory time off, Edward gets a letter from his ex-lover Willow Woodward (Hey, Edward used to date Woodward? Wow!) asking for help in finding her missing daughter Rowan Woodward (Erika-Shaye Gair). Sadly, this isn't the hot, naked Willow the Innkeeper's daughter from the original, this is the consistently clothed Willow, as played by Kate Beahan. Lucklily, Beahan is also quite hot, so The Niccagenator readily agrees to pad out the film in a slow ride to Willow's home on "Summersisle". Yes, Summersisle! Like the original's "Summerisle" but with the extra S. There's something that needed changing. That's what the original film lacked... not enough Ses in the words they used.
Ossiser EdSward Malsusssss, like Howie before him, finds the locals are none-too cooperative in his search for Willow or Rowan. Luckily, he's a cop and his official police mandate affords him all kinds of... uh... nothing... the island is off the coast of Washington State. What a douche! Still, Cage throws his weight around like Rosie on The View (I've never seen "The View", but I figured I'd try to be "Topical"). What Edward soon finds out (much slower than we'd expect) is that this society is much more than just another Leather Mug Making renaissance fair convention. Instead this is a female-centric matriarchal resurgence of the pagan cults of Ancient England... just like... well, hey, just like The View!
Don't get me wrong, I've long stated that a female-centric, matriarchal society would be the resolution to a lot of this horse crap today. We'd also be a lot less uptight, man. Clearly, LaBute doesn't think so, man. Here men are mute drones who get shoved around like that Gelman guy on Live with Regis & Kelly (look, folks, I don't even watch Daytime TV... I don't know what's wrong with me today).
Even our main adversary, a role specifically written for Count Lee himself, has been replaced by Ellen Burstyn's Sister Summersisle. Thankfully, her role as the Matron who leads the Matriarchy is pretty well acted, but the words "What", "The" and "Fuck" do spring to mind, regardless. What is she supposed to be here, The Wicker Witch of the West? Time to head back East to England, baby!
I wonder if that racy matriarchy was why there's no nudity. Not only is there "not enough" nudity, there's none at all. Come on... nothing but ladies, where's our orgy scene? We put in the time! The Wicker Man's 102 minutes feels more like 102 hours, man! Willow... fully clothed. The Willow Character, barmaid Sister Honey, was played by Leelee Sobieski, a honey to be sure... fully clothed. Her mother, Diane Delano's Sister Beech (who takes over the Innkeeper part)... fully clothed. Actually, that's not a bad thing. Same goes for Frances Conroy's Dr. Moss! But hey, Molly Parker's Sister Rose could've led that naked Stonehenge dance from the first one. Come on, chilluns, it's a Feminist Society... why the shame? Why the shame?
It all leads up to a surprisingly intact, yet somehow still scotch-taped together ending that, unlike in the original, comes off as predictable. Strangely, in spite of the horror inherent in this climax, this feels more comical than terrifying. Then again, this is really just the culmination of a great many nonsensical plot threads that leave one scratching the old head-bone instead of enthralling the viewer. Instead of Sergeant Howie turning out to be the perfect candidate for the Summerisle folk's interests, Officer Malus is the perfect Summersisle candidate for a completely different reason. As compelling as this reason is (and it's really not that bad, considering all), it's completely ruined by an epilogue that features two more cameos (from Jason Ritter and James Franco this time). I'm trying hard not to give any spoilers here, but damn it, how does this make sense? Are they counting on EVERY harvest being a complete wash or are they just hedging their bets? Or maybe the whole thing is bullshit anyway. Or, hey, maybe LaBute just went through the original Shaffer script and changed this, that, the other thing and didn't bother to see if any of his un-improvements linked together even a quarter of how Conan and Andy did (hah! Late Night TV this time... I'm bored).
Look, it's not all bad, though it can't hold a birthday candle to the original. LaBute still has a pretty good camera eye and he pulls of some interesting framing choices. Burstyn on her matriarchal throne, flanked by maidens is a fine example. Many of the underwater sequences cut the mustard too. Further, while most of his ideas are big steps backward, LaBute makes the most out of his decision to make the "Harvest" one of Honey instead of fruit. Because Malus is deathly allergic to bee stings (and, by the way, so am I), this adds an interesting development to the puzzle. This also gives LaBute the opportunity to bring in another cool concept, that of the Bee Keepers. These are anonymous women, covered head-to-toe and wearing red hoods with black, featureless faceplates. The affect of these ubiquitous phantoms (which, really, could be anybody) is one of the few truly chilling things in the movie.
Oscar Winner (and multiple nominee) Ellen Burstyn is a wonderful actress and still manages to be cute, even at over seventy years old. As Summersisle, she manages some excellent moments... but generally seems to be in complete disbelief of the screenplay and the fact that she's even in this movie. Nicolas Cage... dude... Nic... dude! Nicolas Cage only agreed to be in Uncle Francis' Peggy Sue Got Married if he was allowed to play his entire part in the voice of Mickey Mouse. I say without guile or cruelty, and as a Nicolas Cage fan, that he is even less believable here! Occasionally he rises to the job, but either because he realized this movie was a turd or because LaBute was no help at all, Cage is generally pretty terrible in this part. I mention Peggy Sue Got Married because I have to wonder if he's playing this for comedy. If he was or is, it didn't help what should have been a wonderful and respectful remake of a great film.
Man, these damned "reimaginings"... Do we all forget that these original films were classics for a reason... possibly for their own content? Of course, the original The Wicker Man wasn't for all tastes. Of course some might find the Surreal moments to be either stupid or comical. Of course... but was this better? Heh... some may say so... some may say I'm in love with the original and fear change. Wrong. I tried to remain spoiler-free, but knew about many of the changes. I had high hopes, kids. Dashed! Or, maybe with the faux-feminist undertones here, I should say MRS. DASHed!
It pains me to say this, but Two Stars out of Five for the Remake of The Wicker Man! This is a true waste of potential, but it does still manage a few bright spots and jewels in the rough. Viewers might not warm to it as the eventually did the original, but taking a look won't turn you to stone. After all Cage, Sobieski, Burstyn... Labute... can't be all bad, right? Right. Maybe I'm just still pissed... maybe I'm just frustrated, but kids, when you tumble out of your little world to find that you're scarcely in the company of men anymore, you find that all of your friends & neighbors are now under the demonic possession of Nurse Betty, isn't it time to bash yourself on the forehead and start to question the shape of things? Sigh. Maybe not. Bad horror remakes aren't the exception anymore, they're the rule. So until some more of the classic latter day terror plays get the mediocre reimagining treatment, I'll see you in the next Rule... I mean, Reel. Screw this, I'm still a feminist!
Man, those Summersisle Ladies
Have an interesting method of Barbequing!
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