Anthony Shaffer’s 1973 occult (and cult) thriller has been put on the remake chopping block, and the results are less than disappointing. Even the audiences who openly embrace Hollywood’s age-old trend of remaking movies will be repelled by this misguided attempt at cult nostalgia.
A Career Sacrifice
With such an obvious poor effort, one wonders whether writer and director Neil LaBute’s new career-killing film had any inspiration to begin with. LaBute (The Shape of Things), originally a playwright, decided that the British horror sensation The Wicker Man deserved a remake — a rebirth, if you will — for a new generation. Perhaps he even thought that he could improve the story. If so, that was his first mistake of many. Not unlike the despicable Omen: 666, which came out earlier this year, this is a textbook example of how some classics are not always timeless, and should be left on the shelves as they are.
The plot is haphazardly similar to the original, save for a pseudo-intellectual side-plot. While patrolling a California road, highway officer Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) witnesses a grisly accident, as the car he pulled over is destroyed by a runaway truck, killing the helpless mother and child inside. Shortly after he is put on medical leave, Malus gets a letter from his old neo-pagan girlfriend, Willow (Kate Beahan), desperately asking for his help in finding her missing daughter. He agrees to help and travels to the island of Summersisle to investigate the disappearance.
During his travels, Malus begins to experience reoccurring nightmares of a girl getting hit by a truck. He is plagued by his impotence, and he considers finding Willow’s daughter to be an act of redemption. Turns out he’s got more than he bargained for; the natives of this Pacific Northwest culture happen to be radical feminists who live like peasants from the 1800s — and act extra weird too. They give him a grumpy welcome, and persist in ridiculing and lying to him throughout his investigation.
Willow’s only advice is to trust no one. Lost in the ancient culture, Malus illogically runs about the island, encountering strange people who don’t know even the simplest of facts. Since the “twist” reveals itself so early in the film, its dreadful to watch a desperate man struggle to obtain explicitly obvious answers.
The Weaker ManThe mystery of the missing girl is counterbalanced by the inner struggle between Malus and his demons from the past. Most of the scenes consist of him stumbling around, chasing his daytime hallucinations, each of them leading him — and the audience — nowhere. This is soft-core suspense; it bears no resemblance to the original film’s chilling realism and horror. How can LaBute justify celebrating such a highly respected classic by repeating overused scare tactics and silly weirdness?
The lack of originality in the filmmaking is repeated in the story, and when we are meant to be guessing our way through the mystery, we’re really checking our watches, waiting for the inevitable to happen.
Perhaps the film would have been more engaging if the script hadn’t given our protagonist the spirit and mentality of a diaper-filled infant. LaBute has Cage randomly exploding in awkward temper tantrums and childish verbal harassment towards the young girls. He even instigates some wildly unnecessary fisticuffs with the pagan ladies. I’m not sure I remember Edward Woodward’s character karate kicking any of the women in the original film.
By the end of the film, things turn laughable as the pieces of the puzzle are awkwardly put in place. I don’t understand how things could have gotten this bad, but it was about the time when Nic Cage is dancing around the woods in a teddy bear costume that I knew The Wicker Man had it’s head way too far up it’s own wicker ass.