The Wicker Man

Edward Woodward starred in the original 1973 B-movie horror classic about a copper who falls foul of a group of weird religious fanatics on a remote Scottish island. Who would believe that they could do a remake with the brilliant Nicolas Cage and still turn out a turkey? Well, as the old joke goes, Edward Woodward would.

Californian cop Edward Malus gets a letter from his ex-girlfriend Willow (Kate Beahan) – and, yes we know that Malus is a type of tree too – from a remote island where her little daughter Rowan – Rowan tree, get it? – has mysteriously disappeared. The island has a population of formidable women led by Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn) the good Doctor Moss (Frances Conroy) and the school ma’am Sister Rose (Molly Parker). All those woodland names, I wonder what they’ll use all the wood for?

They say:

The film reviewers: “Why weren’t there any previews? Surely the film isn’t that bad?”

Man outside the cinema: “It was crap!”

We say:

The one star is awarded in recognition of Nicolas Cage’s considerable acting ability and as compensation for the waste of his talent in this ill-advised re-make of a seventies classic.

We live in an era of remakes, most of which have been tame and pointless imitations – The Omen is just one recent example. Certainly the 1973 movie The Wicker Man which starred Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee deserves cult status with its grainy B-movie atmosphere and its creepy portrayal of weird Highland folk but there is no need to make a comparison here as this new film is just bad by any standard and not just because it is a travesty of the original.

Nicolas Cage plays a traffic cop traumatized by witnessing a terrible accident who, still under the influence of tranquillizers, embarks on a search for a missing girl. Quite predictably, Cage is excellent, as the weary, nightmare-ridden world-weary man. His face has become the perfect vehicle for fevered anxiety and confused disappointment.

The film’s opening scenes make great use of his talents and writer-director Neil Labute impresses in the power of his story telling as an ordinary day turns into tragedy.

The plot moves on from tragedy however and when the movie tackles the main “horror” storyline, it descends into unintentional farce and for Neil Labute it is simply a genre too far.

Instead of the grim Scottish island with its gloomy laird (Christopher Lee), we are given an American version of the Isle of Sark, that picture-postcard but old-fashioned Channel Island with no cars. It is run by a tribe of women who worship a fertility goddess and believe that men should be seen and not heard. Their leader is Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn – ironically the Oscar-winning actress of that other seventies classic Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) who is so camply stage-evil she would be more at home as the mother in Bewitched.

The trouble is that, apart from Cage’s role, all the characters are played like caricatures in a melodrama and the women are painted in such an unattractive light that, if it were more believable, it would be accused of mysogynism.

Horror stories are often unbelievable – we don’t really think a Transylvanian count will fly through our window and suck our blood – but we need to suspend our disbelief in the face of dramatic story telling and enjoy the escape into a different reality. Sadly Neil Labute singularly fails to deliver any of this.

Not since Tom Cruise appeared in his Samurai suit in The Last Samurai, has a film’s dramatic climax been so unintentionally comic as when the women of the island begin their gory ritual. Where some directors have successfully milked children’s games and folksy rural customs for their surrealistic creepiness, Neil Labute has so completely misjudged the effect of the villagers in their animal masks and amateur theatrical chanting that the first night audience roared with laughter.

Poor old Nicolas Cage too never recovers from the scene where he has to be dramatic whilst wearing a pantomime bear outfit or from the literally limp moment when, unseen, he cries out something like “Ow, my legs! My legs!”

So, if you can think of nothing better to do than going to see this, why not stay home and tidy your bedroom?

Cert 12A

Nicolas Cage
Kate Beahan
Ellen Burstyn
Molly Parker
Frances Conroy

Neil Labute

Running time:
106 minutes

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