The Wicker Man (2006) Review

Neil LaBute's remake of the British horror classic The Wicker Man is a competent and handsome-looking film but it never finds a compelling answer to the question most people will be asking: "What's the point?" The 1973 original, directed by Robin Hardy from Anthony Shaffer’s novel and script, is one of the most famous horror films of all time. Even if you haven't seen it, you must at least know the chilling ending. That puts the remake at an immediate disadvantage. Since you know where it's going, can the film maintain your interest along the way?

The answer to that one is, "sort of". Writer-director Neil LaBute has kept the story basically the same but altered the details significantly to integrate his favourite theme: the battle of the sexes, which plays out brutally in his independent films In The Company of Men, Your Friends And Neighbors and The Shape Of Things. Of those, The Wicker Man is closest to The Shape Of Things, which is also about the manipulation and destruction of a man by a scheming woman and has a similarly nasty twist in its tail.

In LaBute's Wicker Man, the island of Summersisle has moved from Scotland to Washington State in America’s Pacific Northwest, which looks spectacularly beautiful as photographed by Paul Sarossy. The island is once again occupied by a pagan community but this time they're not druids, they’re a matriarchal goddess cult. Women run Summersisle and make up most of the population. The few men are kept there to work and breed. I guess the film's bee motif is supposed to represent the make-up of this society. The queen bee is Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn), the island's owner and religious leader. She of course replaces Christopher Lee.

Nicolas Cage replaces Edward Woodward, playing Edward Malus, the cop called to the island to investigate a missing girl. This time the cop's not a religious man himself - or a virgin! - just an ordinary patrolman traumatised by his failure to save a mother and child from an automobile inferno. While recuperating, he receives a letter from an old girlfriend (Kate Beahan), begging him to help find her daughter. Edward guesses as soon as he arrives that the girl's disappearance is linked to the sinister cult but he doesn't realise until it's far too late exactly what it is they're up to.

LaBute's storytelling is reasonably effective. This isn't a slavish remake like The Omen: there are enough changes to the characters and the plotline to keep it watchable, even though it's always clear the story's moving in the same direction. The concept of a female cult using men as "drones" is reasonably provocative, though this is far from LaBute's most incisive take on the tensions between the sexes. The director always works well with actors so it’s no surprise that Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn and the rest of the cast are on good form. Cage's sympathetic performance is a major asset.

Working against the movie is a tomb-full of horror clichés - flashbacks, hallucinations, surreal imagery (boy, has this been done to death lately!), even "it was just a dream!" moments - without which the 1973 version managed perfectly well. This is a story that's more horrifying set in the real world, not one inhabited by women covered in bees and pairs of old crones talking in tandem. It's disappointing to see a gifted director like LaBute resorting to such tired devices. The film also shows evidence of having been trimmed to qualify for a PG-13 rating. There's no nude dancing in this one, folks!

The new Wicker Man gets points for trying - it's not a shameful rip-off - but it simply isn’t the film its predecessor is. Robin Hardy's version has burned itself into the memories of everyone who's seen it. This one dissipates as quickly a puff of smoke.



out of 10

Last updated: 24/06/2018 15:27:50

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