Wicker Man, The (2006)

The Wicker Man reviewStarring Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Leelee Sobieski, Molly Parker

Directed by Neil LaBute

There are some of you out there who don’t feel like wading through a big chunk of review just to find out if a film is worth seeing or not. For those people, I vow to write a quick bit on the movie’s delivery in the first paragraph from now on! That said, for those that know anything about The Wicker Man, you’ve already been told that this is hardly a horror film. Inexplicably, it was billed as such in the past and has been hyped even more so in its 2006 incarnation. This is NOT a horror film, nor is it scary at all … unless you live in fear of being bored … to DEATH!! Dun dun dun duuuuuuuun. There is more intrigue and a higher body count in your basic episode of “CSI”. “24” has more suspense, and you get to watch Chloe O’Brian all but curse people out! (Yeah, I have a thing for Chloe … shoot me.) The Wicker Man is a horror movie like The Weatherman was a comedy. That is to say, not at all.

Cycle cop Edward Malus (Cage) is having a typical day pulling over speeders on his stretch of road. During one particular stop Ed witnesses a horrible accident. While trying to save a young woman and her daughter, Ed is caught in the explosion and barely lives to tell the tale. Now plagued by horrifying images burned into his subconscious from that day, he receives a letter from a love from his past thought lost. The letter speaks of her missing daughter and begs him to come to a place called Summersisle to aid in finding her. This catapults Ed into a world created by the residents of this secluded island who seem to shun the technology and complications of the modern world and hide dark secrets among their collective. Sort of like Amish Satanists.

The Wicker ManFirst off, I’ll say straight away that I haven’t seen the original. After reading some text on the film and talking to friends, it’s clear this is a sort of neutered version of the cult classic. Words like “chilling” and “disturbing” were used for the original. The same cannot be said for the new incarnation with its deadpan pace and endless flashbacks to the fateful car crash, which you’ll be sick of by the third time. Where the original hoped to reflect organized religions while questioning their usual puritanical nature, the remake only offers cryptic imagery and 300 scenes of Nicolas Cage doing his confused face. In the past we got naked women dancing in a sort of pagan ritual. Today, we get LeeLee Sobieski in Quaker summer wear. Not a fair trade at all!!

It is hard to talk about the acting in this film as it is unclear what director LaBute was going for most of the time. Did anyone help to raise the level of apprehension of the audience? I didn’t think so. 98% of the delivery in every actor is reminiscent of a reading of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. You’ve got Ellen Burstyn as Sister Summersisle, self-declared demi-god of the island, who delivers her musings with glee. Not an air of mystery. Not a hint of malice or foreboding. She smiles like a kind aunt and leaves you with nothing more than the thoughts of countless movies you’ve seen her in. Hell, she was probably creepier in The YaYa Sisterhood.

Kate Beahan as Sister Willow, the woman who lures Edward to the island, provides a disjointed delivery. To the actress’ credit, it seems more the fault of the writer and the director. Willow gets asked why she didn’t deliver a piece of the puzzle earlier when she’s begging Edward to find her daughter and delivers in-depth answers like “What … huh … I don’t … umm …” It’s all at once distracting and annoying. Her quivering model lips do little to recover from her weak character representation. In this mystery Willow is practically useless.

The Wicker ManThe only other character given significant screen time would be Sister Rose, played by an eerily beautiful Molly Parker. Sad to say that, again, this character does little more than spit riddles at our hero Edward, who seems to want to back-hand her after five minutes of chatting. Her role was apparently to look smug and revel in his confusion. Mission accomplished! She’ll revel in the headache she’s causing you as well.

I will give slight credit to Nicolas Cage in this film, though it’s not difficult to out-act a group that isn’t really given anything of substance to deliver. Cage runs, dives into water and even delivers a karate kick or two (and no I’m not joking). He’s got his bewildered and disillusioned face down to a science. Yay independant film training! At least you can feel his frustration at times. I know how you feel, buddy. I sat through the whole film.

As mentioned before, the pacing of The Wicker Man never escapes the velocity of a trotting horse. Think of an old man making his way across the room, on a walker, to get at the Jello cups. Sure, he’s enthusiastic about getting over there because there’s Jello involved, but he can only go so fast. That’s what you can look forward to for an hour and a half. Watching that old guy go after that Jello cup. Edward is trying to find Willow’s daughter on the island and pretty much walks from house to house to do so. House … to … house … Edward follows clues laid out with the subtlety of a 20-pound wet fish across the face. Case in point: A character is reading a book entitled Ancient Rituals (or some such nonsense), which she leaves open when Edward arrives. As his gaze falls on the open page, she closes the book to reveal the large gold, gleaming name of the book on the cover. Hmm … could this be a clue??!! These bits are broken up by half a dozen flashbacks to the opening scene’s car crash and hallucinations which are surely meant to be scary, though any ounce of dread is sucked clean off the bone before the camera gets to them.

At another point the film begins to explore the nature of the inhabitants of spooky island, likening them to members of an insect hive colony. Wow! Holy Two Fisted Irony, Batman!! There just happen to be bees all throughout the movie! Does this have anything to do with why the child is missing or why the people of the island won’t speak about her existence? Not a bit. You may as well pretend this bit of information is like the comic book dissertation by David Carradine in Kill Bill 2. It serves no purpose, but it all sounds reeeeeal purty.

I seriously hope you haven’t been looking at the evil little kid on the Wicker Man posters, hoping to be scared out of your wits. This is not only an unsuccessful horror film, it’s also a sub-par mystery. “Law and Order” has delivered more shocks and plot twists for me. Like the almost completely forgotten Omen remake, this film is unnecessary and poorly re-imagined. Nothing new is offered, so why bother? If your interest has been piqued by the hype, go out and rent the original (review here). You’ll thank me later.

1 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit