Dir. Neil LaBute, Germany/US, 2006, 97 mins
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Beahan, Molly Parker, LeeLee Sobieski, Diane Delano
Review by Matthew Rodgers
Let’s light the fuse under this wicker man straight away. It’s not as good as the original, nowhere near, it was never going to be, but that’s not to say that Neil LaBute’s “re-imagining” (don’t you just hate that word?) doesn’t tick the right boxes in “horror 101” before being reduced to ash by attempting to outdo THAT ending.
Nicolas Cage takes over police duties from Edward Woodward’s bewildered 1973 counterpart and to be fair is given a lot more to cope with in the form of bees, underwater burials and in the place of random hippies is dropped straight into the middle of the matriarchal society from hell. His reasons for travelling to the island of Summersisle are to locate the whereabouts of a missing girl that may or may not actually exist.
It has to be said that The Wicker Man requires a lot of patience from the audience, firstly in judging it on its own merits rather than constantly comparing it to the cult original, and secondly because the action unravels at a snails pace that may cause a few to shuffle in their seats.
To counteract this LaBute creates a fantastic sense of impending doom whereby the knowing members of the audience will be watching Cage’s descent towards the inevitable finale with a macabre glee, and those unfamiliar with the story will initially find amusement in the behaviour of the islanders before becoming increasingly unsettled by their bizarre, and extremely creepy antics.
The transformation in portrayal of the inhabitants from the original is the most interesting aspect of the 2006 version of The Wicker Man. Neil La Bute is a director most famous for his repressed portrayal of women. Films such as In the Company of Men and Friends and Neighbours have resulted in him being labelled a misogynist. What better way to dispel these accusations than to have our protagonist stumble from one red herring to another with the knowledge that all the women on the island hold the answers? They even worship a Goddess!
The women in question are also one of the strongest reasons to watch the movie. Ellen Burstyn gets the Christopher Lee role of chief island fruit loop and despite some William Wallace style face paint is unnervingly sinister. Credit must also go to Kate Beahan and Molly Parker as two of the islands conspiring sisters who deliver excellent performances.
So what of the hot (get it?) lead actor Nic Cage? He does extremely well at conveying Edward Malus’ increasing insanity but is hampered by a weak back-story and LaBute’s over-reliance on flashbacks to flesh out his character. We are also shown that he is on medication throughout the course of the film which raises the question in some scenes as to whether he is imagining some of the unfolding lunacy. This removes the empathy that would have been felt knowing that it was a normal person caught up in the middle of the chaos and not just the suggestion that its one crazy guy on an island full of crazy women.
The Wicker Man 2006 will be judged on one thing, and one thing only. The Ending. In all honesty, it is a sufficient finale that neatly caps this interesting re-imagining (shudder) of the classic, that is until it fades to black and LaBute tags on a final scene that will ultimately leave a bad taste in the mouth and perhaps an unfair opinion of the movie - so if you can, leave the cinema while the ashes are still hot.