Friday, September 08, 2006

Movies: The Wicker Man (2006)

• Why all the hate for this wacky-fun thriller?

Genres: Thriller, mystery, horror (but not really), remake
Director: Neil LaBute
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Kate Beahan, Ellen Burstyn
Verdict: &&&1/2

Upon its release, reviews of The Wicker Man remake decried its changes to the nature of the island's inhabitants, but it is absolutely faithful to the spirit of the original and succeeds as a whacked-out mystery-thriller populated by an estrogen-drenched cult of modern pagans who raise honeybees and mute their men. After cop Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) fails to save a young girl from a fiery crash in the dramatic opening, a former love (Kate Beahan) summons him to the pagan paradise of Summersisle to help find her young daughter, who has gone missing. Malus, who has taken leave from work and is a pill-popping mess after that terrible crash, gets a chilly and skeptical reception from the island women, who offer obvious half-truths and deception when questioned about the missing girl, who appears in fleeting glimpses reminiscent of those in Don't Look Now. It's clear that something besides the lack of cell phone service is amiss on the beautifully pastoral island, and there's an enjoyably kinetic freakiness as Malus interacts with this wacky hen party and tries to elicit information without losing his control over the lawless ladies, who have been very aptly cast: As mysterious matriarch Sister Summersisle, Ellen Burstyn is just as effective as the original's patriarch, Christopher Lee, while young Helen Hunt look-alike Leelee Sobieski is perfectly solicitous as Sister Honey, and Diane Delano is pleasantly amusing as the rather masculine and no-nonsense Sister Beech. As Malus, haunted by images from the crash and the red-hooded young girl, pursues his increasingly desperate detective work on the island, the women exhibit increasingly bizarre behavior as they prepare for an annual fertility ritual involving a young girl. I particularly enjoyed the moment when all is illuminated — the rug is not gently jerked from underneath the viewer. As in the original movie, it's a cold and clever ending that sends the mind reeling back to things that happened before; the grand deception should be savored and admired.

// Also see // The Wicker Man (1974)

•• Revised 11/18/07 ••


Chuang Shyue Chou said...

I have always been intrigued by the original and have wanted to watch it. Oh well.

No, I haven't seen this one either.

Jebb said...

I'm working on seeing the old one by Halloween, at least. There's a complication, though. The version available on DVD is missing something like 10 or 12 minutes from the theatrical version, and the conventional wisdom seems to be that it is far better in the uncut version. There is a VHS release which has the original theatrical version, but Amazon shows it shipping in four to six weeks. I may have to settle for the cut version. As for the remake, I think a lot of folks have been way too harsh on it.