Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: "The Wicker Man" Remake is Whickety Whickety Whack

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 201 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux (support on Patreon)

The Wicker Man (2006)
Running time:  102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for disturbing images and violence, language, and thematic issues
DIRECTOR:  Neil LaBute
WRITER:  Neil LaBute (based upon the screenplay by Anthony Shaffer)
PRODUCERS:  Nicolas Cage, Norm Golightly, Avi Lerner, Randall Emmett, John Thompson, and Boaz Davidson
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Paul Sarossy, B.S.C., C.S.C. (director of photography)
EDITOR:  Joel Plotch
COMPOSER:  Angelo Badalamenti

MYSTERY/HORROR/THRILLER with elements of drama

Starring:  Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Beahan, Frances Conroy, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski, Diane Delano, Michael Wiseman, and Erika-Shaye Gair

The subject of this movie review is The Wicker Man, a 2006 horror film and mystery thriller from director Neil LaBute.  The film is a remake of the 1973 British film, The Wicker Man, and this remake sources both the 1973 screenplay by Anthony Shaffer and the 1967 horror novel, Ritual, that was the source material for the original film.  In the 2006 version of The Wicker Man, a policeman searches a small island for his missing daughter, but meets resistance from the island's secretive neo-pagan community.

After failing to save a little girl from a fiery car crash, California Highway Patrol officer Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) sinks into months of pill-popping.  He finds his chance at redemption when another opportunity arrives to save a little girl in danger.  He receives a mysterious and desperate letter from his former fiancĂ©e, Willow (Kate Beahan): her daughter, Rowan (Erika-Shaye Gair), is missing.  Willow begs Edward to come to her home on a private island in Washington’s Puget Sound, Summerisle.  Edward soon finds himself on a seaplane headed for the islands of the Pacific Northwest.

He finds, however, the community on Summerisle to be exceedingly strange.  The local culture, built around honey harvesting, is dominated by its matriarch, Sister Summerisle (Ellen Burstyn), and the community is in fact a commune and a matriarchy where the women apparently rule over the men who speak nary a word.  Malus finds Willow, now Sister Willow, vague about the disappearance of her daughter, saying only that she believes her fellow islanders have taken Rowan.  The secretive women of Summerisle only ridicule his investigation insisting that Rowan doesn’t exist or that she did but is no longer alive.

Edward also finds the islanders bound by arcane tradition, and they are preparing for a festival to which they refer as “the Day of Death and Rebirth.”  As Edward navigates these bizarre (to him) ancient traditions, he believes that he is getting closer to finding Rowan, but he is also moving towards something unspeakable and perhaps closer to a mysterious figure known as The Wicker Man.

If you’ve ever seen the Robin Hardy-directed British film, The Wicker Man, which stars Edward Woodward as a strongly-devout Christian (and virginal) cop investigating the disappearance of a little girl and Christopher Lee as the leader of a pagan community on an isolated Scottish isle, you’re probably angry that anyone would remake the cult classic.  The original (written by famed playwright Anthony Shaffer who was in turn influenced by actor/writer David Pinner’s novel, Ritual) was genuinely creepy (and occasionally kitschy) with a killer ending.  This film is required viewing for true film fanatics who must experience the pagan villagers swaying like mad trees in their happy, smiling dance of death.

Neil Labute’s remake, also entitled The Wicker Man, is an American “re-imagining” that does have its inventive moments, but is mostly so-so – the kind of thing that seems like a strange CBS television movie.  Some of LaBute’s (an indie director known for such films as In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors) new touches and ideas are rather sweet.  There is something uncomfortably charming about Summerisle as an old-fashioned agrarian society (this one sustains itself by harvesting honey).  Building the film’s costume and production design around the beehive motif adds for some cool visuals.  The beehives are in a field in which the layout resembles a honeycomb (super cool!).  The villagers are still creepy, but whereas they seemed like clueless Jonestown yokels in the original, they’re more dangerous, like Charles Manson’s followers.

Ellen Burstyn gives a simply delicious performance as Sister Summerisle, her every appearance dominates the screen and she literally eats up a script that cannot contain her performance nor satisfy her fire.  Nicolas Cage is actually pretty good as Edward Malus, but once again I think he would have played better had LaBute written stronger supporting characters to go up against Malus, as well as given some of them more lines.  The implausible aspects of this concept show more here than they did in the original.  Also, like the original, this would work better as a longer film, and like the original, the sight of The Wicker Man and that killer ending still hit hard.

5 of 10

Saturday, September 23, 2006

2007 Razzie Awards:  5 nominations: “Worst Picture,” “Worst Actor” (Nicolas Cage), “Worst Screen Couple” (Nicolas Cage... and his bear suit), “Worst Remake or Rip-Off,” and “Worst Screenplay” (Neil LaBute based on the original screenplay by Anthony Shaffer)

The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

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