For all the times we screamed "BAD IDEA," for all the groans we let out at the PG-13 rating, for all the foreboding messages by people who claimed to have seen it and insisted that "they couldn't even go through with it," for all the... well, you know me. There was no way that I could let the remake of THE WICKER MAN pass through town without seeing it for myself.
It wasn't like THE OMEN. I could skip that one without a second thought. Because everybody said it was nothing more than a scene-for-scene, etc. And NOBODY said it was anything I didn't already expect it to be. So I saw that one in the 70s and can easily imagine Liev Schrieber doing the Gregory Peck bit--take it from there.
But THE WICKER MAN? Especially in the jaded mood I've been in lately, I wandered in expecting no more and no less than the biggest crock of the year. So did I get it?
It's wrong-headed... they don't ultimately pull it off... and yet it is NOT the biggest crock of the year. In order to explain this, however, I am obliged to provide comprehensive SPOILERS. So if you DO plan to see the remake (for whatever reason), read no further.
It seems like the only thing most people think of when they think of THE WICKER MAN is the ending. It HAS been copied to death, and I've invoked it when reviewing other films often enough myself. But it's NOT the ending. It's HOW they get to it. Edward Woodward's staunch, conservative Christianity blinds him to other cultures and allows him to walk straight into a trap--while the pagan life is made to look (and SOUND) beautiful and compelling... men, women, children, fertility, crops, music and dance... you know SOMETHING's wrong, but the true horror doesn't manifest itself until it's too late. In short, THE WICKER MAN doesn't play as a "horror" movie. You can't ignore it, but you can't pigeonhole it, either.
Neil LaBute's take on the material almost completely eliminates the Christian aspect (you DO see a submerged Christ figure in a ruined church at one point, but this is no war of faith--Nicolas Cage (cleverly named "Edward" and searching for a little girl whose last name is "Woodward"--heh heh) shows no faith to even call into question. Instead, he's in a crisis of self-doubt. I'd like to say "ever since he failed to save a little girl from a burning car," but he's picking up self-help tapes called "Everything's OK" before anything even happens!
So--no faith to lose. And as you've probably heard, no virginity either. We have a distressingly "Hollywood" plot twist instead... see, HE turns out to be the girl's father! It was no simple "ex-girlfriend" who lured him to the newly relocated "Summersisle" off Puget Sound.
Now, culture shock he gets. The problem is that this take on Summersisle (yes, they spell it with an extra "S" here) goes beyond just not welcoming strangers. They're all weird, sinister, hostile--and for some reason, a bunch of them are twins that speak together like the fairies from Mothra's island. Men are mute, timid "drones." Yes, drones. It's not apples this time--it's honey. And so this is a "colony," and Sister Summersisle has a chamber that resembles a queen bee's palace, the island features "crop circles" in the form of a honeycomb. Oh. And Edward Malus (Cage) is allergic to beestings. What a coinky-dink.
There is NO sexual pleasure to be found here. The colony procreates for breeding purposes only. So it seems awfully strange that Leelee Sobieski is even around to (sort of) recreate the Britt Ekland role from the original. She's no temptation--she just acts weird in a couple of scenes... and then, oh yeah, she leaps out and screams "YAAAAAAAA" to attack Edward as we get near the finale... and he kung-fu kicks her into oblivion. Lions and tigers and bears... oh, my!
Sister Summersisle herself takes much too long to show up, and while Ellen Burstyn is a marvellous actress, she shows absolutely none of the benevolent charisma that Christopher Lee radiated in the original. Don't blame her--blame Neil LaBute. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that while the original film was an intense culture clash with a mystery at its heart, the remake is about as blatant an anti-feminist statement as can be made. Like I said--no sexual teasing, no bimbos, no degrading stereotypes... but this is a film in which women are absolutely nothing but a man's worst nightmare. THERE's your movie.
So what you REALLY want to know if you've read this far is... do they actually go through with it in the end, or was our Internet "expert" telling the truth when he said that Cage escaped with his life in the end?
MUCH to the film's credit... they DO go through with it. He burns. Like a match. And the Coast Guard doesn't show up to save him, and there's no sudden miraculous rainstorm. Maybe somebody saw a preview cut with an alternate ending. I don't know--there was certainly room to do it (especially when his cop buddy breaks through on the cell phone near the end).
Yeah--NEAR the end. Thing is, they throw on a "Six Months Later" epilogue in which Leelee and one of her gal pals show up in a mainland bar to hit on young guys from the police academy and start the whole thing over again.
Uh-huh. Not only do the cops know where Edward disappeared to, but now they have a pretty good idea of what happened to him, too. And so there won't be any problem when ANOTHER ex-girlfriend sends ANOTHER cop a letter asking him to find ANOTHER missing little girl. Well, they're experts at setting up plots at Summersisle... if the movie's to be believed, they were also behind the accident that traumatized Edward to begin with. Just how the hell anybody COULD set up such an incident (leaving no bodies and no registered vehicle behind) is yet ANOTHER question the film never even tries to answer.
See what happens when you feel compelled to add a new "twist" to a story that worked perfectly well to begin with?
THE WICKER MAN actually could have survived a faithful remake--it's that good. The new one isn't the absolute worst--but it's not the right remake, either.
Unless you truly hate and fear women--then this one's for you!
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