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Awesome: 1.37%
Worth A Look: 10.96%
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5 reviews, 43 user ratings

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Wicker Man, The (2006)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Better Than Your Average PG-13 Horror Remake"
4 stars

Although the notion of someone doing an Americanized version of the much-admired 1970's British horror film “The Wicker Man” sounds as pointless and redundant as any of the other recent string of genre remakes that have been clogging multiplexes, I have to admit that I have been curious to see it ever since I heard that Neil LaBute was the man hired to write and direct it. Through such works as “In the Company of Strangers,” “Your Friends and Neighbors” and “The Shape of Things,” LaBute has established himself as one of the most provocative and distinctive American filmmakers at work today and not the kind of guy who would readily sign on to a project along these lines unless he had found a new way of approaching the basic premise of the original. For the most part, he has done that and while the final film may not be a total success–it doesn’t transcend the original in the way that David Cronenberg and John Carpenter did when they took on their versions of, respectively, “The Fly” and “The Thing”–it does do a disservice to its ancestor and at times actually manages to conjure up the same aura of weirdo dread that permeated the original version.

Although “The Wicker Man” is usually described as a straightforward horror film, it actually plays more like an oddball clash of the classic Hammer horror films of the era (right down to the casting of such Hammer regulars as Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt) with the likes of “The Prisoner,” “The Avengers” and other examples of weirdo British television series of the day. Edward Woodard starred as a repressed and devoutly Christian police sergeant charged with finding a young girl who has mysteriously disappeared. The trail eventually leads him to the remote island of Summersisle, a pagan community run by the cheerfully depraved Lord Summersisle (Lee, in what he has described endlessly as the personal favorite of all his films). As he bounces around throughout the town trying to figure out what is going on, Woodard gradually begins to discover that there is more going on than meets the eye–by then, however, he is in far too deep and his dogged devotion to getting to the bottom of the case eventually leads him to a fate that is all the more horrifying because it had been so thoroughly preordained for him. Instead of going for cheap shocks throughout, director Robin Hardy preferred a slow-burning approach ( no joke intended) that gradually led to one of the great gut-punch finales in all of cinema.

For the most part, LaBute has stuck to the parameters of the original, though some key details have been changed. This time around, Nicolas Cage plays Edward Malus, a cop who is currently on leave from work (and possibly from his faculties) after a tragic traffic-stop accident. While recovering, he gets a letter from long-lost former fiancee Willow (Kate Beahan) informing him that her young daughter, Rowan (Erika-Shaye Gair), has gone missing and he travels to the Washington island of Summersisle to look for her. The biggest change this time around comes with the discovery that instead of a pagan community, the populace of Summersisle is a feminist matriarchy led by queen bee Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn) where the few males milling around are silent workers–a set-up that mirrors the societal structure of the bees that are the basis for the commune’s economic survival. (Not coincidentally, we soon learn that Edward is fatally allergic to bee stings.) Aside from those changes, the plot is more or less the same and yes, it does end on more or less the same bleak and nihilistic note that the original went out on–the only problem is that while it ends on a moment as powerful as the one in the original, it then goes on to include an epilogue that is so pointless and idiotic that it feels as if LaBute went out of his way (or was ordered to do so by a clueless studio weasel) to come up with a final scene that would utterly destroy the impact of what should have been the final images.

Until that disastrous coda, LaBute actually does a fairly credible job of making a film that respects the original while allowing him to exploring new aspects of the story that dovetail with his own personal obsessions. For the most part, he effectively approximates the deliberate pacing of the original film–like that one, he prefers building a sense of uneasiness rather than jolting viewers with quick shocks so as not to dilute the impact of the final act. (Helping immeasurably in that regard are Paul Sarossy’s cinematography and Angelo Badalamenti’s score–both of which lend an interesting 70's feel to the proceedings.) Although he displays a tendency to overdo Cage’s haunted memories of a child that he wasn’t able to save–no matter where he is, even on a boat, he still sees her getting run over by an out-of-left-field truck–it does add an interesting layer to the proceedings with the possibility that the increasingly bizarre goings-on during his investigation are merely the end result of a combination of the guilt over that incident, his rage over being abandoned by his fiancee and the ineffectiveness of the pills and self-help tapes he has been swallowing hand over fist in order to deal with them.

And while some may look at the matriarchal society portrayed in the film as the ultimate example of female bashing that LaBute has been accused on indulging in over the years, a case could be made that it is actually a sly spoof of such criticisms–a hilariously straight-faced spoof of what feminism is presumably all about–right down to a classroom of little girls taught to disapprovingly chant “Phallic Symbol! Phallic Symbol!”–through the eyes of an alpha male who feels burned and powerless in a world where women are perfectly comfortable and willing to embrace and exert the same power that men have been doing for centuries. (I can see the Paul Rudd character from “The Shape of Things” running home to pen just such a story after seeing Rachel Weisz’s art project.) Another interesting conceit that LaBute touches on is the way that the rules and edicts of a small, separatist society can seem perfectly normal and rational to those who have spent their entire lives living under their teachings while appearing utterly insane to outsiders–LaBute was, for a while, a member of the Latter Day Saints and this appears to be his way of exploring that particular aspect of his life. Finally, “The Wicker Man” appears to be a method by which LaBute is able to pay tribute to one of his favorite filmmakers, the late Stanley Kubrick–beyond visual homages to the likes of “The Shining” and “Eyes Wide Shut” (especially during the deliciously unhinged final reels), the entire film has a Kubrickian feel with its blend of black comedy, an austere narrative style and a storyline in which man once again finds himself helplessly trapped in the middle of a story whose conclusion was preordained long before he even came onto the scene.

On the other hand, one of the key problems with the film is that the audience–at least those familiar with the original–is also trapped in the middle of a story whose conclusion was preordained long before they came onto the scene. As a result, despite the new approaches to the material, some viewers may become frustrated by the fact that it isn’t going to strike off into completely new and uncharted territories in the way that Cronenberg did with “The Fly.” Another problem is that while Nicolas Cage’s increasingly unhinged performance isn’t bad on the surface, it doesn’t really have anything to bounce off of and it comes off at times as even more blustery and bombastic than even he intended. When he does have something to work with–such as in his big scene with Ellen Burstyn, whose more serene nuttiness serves as both an effective complement to Cage and a smart homage to Christopher Lee’s take on the role in the original–the results are so good that you wish there was more of that. You’ll especially be wishing that during Cage’s scenes with ex-fiancee Kate Beahan–although she has the right look for the character (imagine a slightly daffier Fiona Apple), she displays so little personality that you never believe for a second that Cage could possibly have been so hung up over her disappearance years earlier. And once again, I must stress that the epilogue is one of the worst bits of film that you will see on a movie screen this year–the minute that the words “Six Months Later” appear, I suggest you make up and leave at that point and spare yourselves the agony.

“The Wicker Man” is uneven and it doesn’t come close to matching the power of the original (though, to be honest, that is one of those titles that doesn’t quite live up to its reputation or the memories of those who saw it long ago). That said, it is far from the embarrassment that the dump release it has been given by Warners (a Labor Day weekend flush without any press screenings–an odd decision since LaBute has always been a critical favorite) and it has just enough screwy charm and weirdness to sort of work on its own right. Besides, all of you out there who have long desired to see one of the Oscar-winning stars of “The Rock” running around in an Americanized remake of a British cult favorite while wearing a bear suit and who missed seeing Sean Connery doing it in “The Avengers”–well, now you have been given a second chance.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15159&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/02/06 11:37:11
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User Comments

4/14/13 Melissa NOT THE BEES! THEY'RE IN MY EYES! (btw if you get the joke in my name, kudos) 1 stars
8/26/12 David Pollastrini A horrible remake of a horrible original 1 stars
12/04/09 Chris F the biggest pile of shite ive ever seen 1 stars
8/01/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess The original chilled me to the bone; the remake just made me hungery for honey. Mmmm honey. 2 stars
9/18/08 David Cohen Not the bees! Not the bees! Don;t try and tell me this wasn't supposed to be funny 1 stars
7/05/08 art WATCH THE ORIGINAL INSTEAD 1 stars
3/22/08 Nick I got tricked into watching this movie. Wheres the ending. Brick the producers 1 stars
3/22/08 Matt Only good thing about this movie was when Nicholas Cage punched the shit out of that bitch 1 stars
3/01/08 Pamela White very very overrated 1 stars
11/19/07 Steve M One of the worst films I've ever seen. 1 stars
11/08/07 Naghma I cannot believe Nicholas Cage agreed to do this movie. One of the worst movies ever. 1 stars
10/23/07 Ivana Mann Easily the funniest movie of 2006.Too bad it's supposed to be a thriller."My legs,my legs!" 1 stars
7/31/07 mr.mike somewhat overly bashed , but not good. 2 stars
6/11/07 al smith fucking shit hollywood are fast running out of ideas 1 stars
6/03/07 fools♫gold the Fourth...Extreme; a sweetenedreminder forpeople towatch theoriginalagain. Above a 9/10 4 stars
4/23/07 bwah fukin horrible, i wish he would have killled those bitches but they took his ammo 1 stars
3/16/07 Luisa First Nicolas Cage flick that actually sucks!!! 1 stars
12/25/06 ALDO Someone please kill this director seriously worse movie i've ever seen terrible ending 1 stars
12/06/06 Azem Nicholas Cage rules, but I really don't get it why did he accept this role, the movie sucks 1 stars
11/05/06 Kate Considering LaButes past work, I place the blame on the producers. 3 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Laughably fascinating hokum. Third-act bitchsmacking spree is priceless. Coda stalls it. 2 stars
9/30/06 Swish worse than the original, is that even possible, yup somehow they pulled it off, amazing 1 stars
9/27/06 Raj Burn the director! 1 stars
9/15/06 David C Absolute worst movie I have ever seen. Ever. 1 stars
9/14/06 Kimberly Cole Zemke wish I could get that two hours back 1 stars
9/14/06 Whyteeemendee Incredible voice acting, especially during the "legs" part. 2 stars
9/14/06 Daniel Piece of shit, worst film ever 1 stars
9/12/06 Edward Connell How far will the diector take you,appreciated for the work. 5 stars
9/10/06 Monster W. Kung Pathetic piece of crap. Cage is one of the worst actors of all time. 1 stars
9/09/06 malcolm good but not as good as original 3 stars
9/08/06 michael pretty fair 3 stars
9/07/06 Tiffany Thought it was really dumb. Not scary either 2 stars
9/05/06 Tony People were laughing and yelling at this movie! Save your money!!! 1 stars
9/04/06 Rob Entertaining for an 11 year old...maybe a mildy retarded 12 year old 1 stars
9/04/06 Susan W The worst movie I've seen in a long time 1 stars
9/04/06 Pat Bresnahan Total waiste of time and money 1 stars
9/03/06 Lance M. I thought I was going to wet myself during the bear scene!!! 2 stars
9/03/06 Holcomb I can't say it enough, THE MOVIE SUCKED! 1 stars
9/02/06 Robin McCreery So very, very stupid 1 stars
9/02/06 Brandon "Oh, my legs!" is sure to be a popular catchphrase at all the best Pagan rituals this year. 1 stars
9/02/06 Ole Man Bourbon There were laughable lines, terrible scenes, but the movie was kinda ok overall somehow. 4 stars
9/01/06 Stubby The original WAS a classic...this is a disgrace to cinema. 1 stars
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  01-Sep-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006



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