The Wicker Man Review
Nothing is sacred in the world of film, if it can be remade it will be remade. Be that as plot stealing (borrowing), frame composition, outright remake, or reinterpretation as they now like to be called. Even the most classic of films are offered no protection against directors whose vision sees more than an unremakeable film. And what happens? The remade film flops since inevitable comparisons are made and the original wins nearly every time. There are exceptions, John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) being a classic in its own right, and one of the handful of horror films able to wear that title, because more often than not the remake pales. The list is too long to go into here so I'm not even going to start. So bringing us to tonight's feature The Wicker Man. In 1973 Robin Hardy brought Anthony Shaffer's novel to the big screen through a small independent British distributor. Unfortunately the original cut was treated badly, for one reason and another, and edited to a mere wafer of its former self, then tied as a double feature; however it gained huge popularity. One of its biggest supporters was its star Christopher Lee who championed the case to get a full 'directors' cut released, it took a few years but eventually it happened. The film has a huge cult following and is respected throughout the world as a classic of the horror genre. By mixing pagan ritualistic beliefs against Christian values, an impending sense of doom and a finale that continues to shock to this day it is quite inconceivable that The Wicker Man could ever be remade, but here we are.
The 2006 remake has Neil LaBute with perhaps only Possession (2002) as his biggest claim to fame in the director's chair and armed with nothing but Shaffer's original screenplay and his own writing credit attempts to best, sorry reinterpret, The Wicker Man. Essentially that means the basic premise is the same, even if the characters and the plot direction are different. We still have a policeman, in the guise of Edward Malus (Nick Cage), though he is suffering from shell shock due to a horrific accident. Summersisle is still an island, but in somewhere USA, and run by a sisterhood that praise bee's since their produce is honey. It is a closed community, not suffering intruders and this hampers Malus' investigation into a missing girl; whom it turns out is actually his daughter, hence his involvement. And the climax with ritual sacrifice remains intact. So much the same, but much is different. Still liveable. Unfortunately the film is flat, taking us through a series of points by a rather convoluted path to a conclusion that nearly everyone knows. And here is where the real problem lies.
Eddie Malus suffers from allergic reactions to bee stings. He is also suffering from a recurring nightmare and undergoing psychiatric help for his involvement in a horrific road side accident. The reason he takes up the case of the missing girl is because an old girlfriend, fiancé, in fact, contacts him to find her (their) missing daughter on her home island of Summersisle. All this background information is stodgy and unnecessary and something Hollywood tends to do with its remake characters, look at The Ring (2002) for example. He never has the discipline, nor the religious conviction needed to put him at odds with the islands inhabitants; his only beef is their reluctance to help his investigation; surely that must happen in California? His sole purpose for finding the missing girl is his paternity, nothing to do with corruption of innocence. So whilst his motives are laudable they do not set him against the island beliefs, he wants to save her for himself, not for herself.
The island community is run by Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn) but she plays with none of the charisma needed for a cult leader, they have their own religious beliefs, a sisterhood that sees the men of the island subjugated (pagan ritual worships the woman, this does not mean males are slaves) in a perversion of 'girl power'. They are portrayed as fanatical, but not seductive; Malus is never once tempted, he has no demons to excise, in fact he thinks nothing of a punch to the face to these women. Their religion demands sacrifice to the Wicker Man, but they have to plan in advance, sow the seeds of their victims, so their proclamation that “one shall come of his own free will” doesn't really make sense since they have already preordained the person. But perhaps worst of all, the film never manages achieve that sense of inevitability even though we know the ending. There is no blurring of right and wrong here, no conviction of belief at odds with tradition; it's not the island that demands the sacrifice, it's only the sisterhood, Malus doesn't believe and has nowhere to turn in his hour of need.
This set has two versions of the film, a 'director's' cut with 'alternate shock ending' and the theatrical version. I was not looking forward to this film, since I hold the original in such high regard, so elected for the 'alternate shock ending' version.
Thar be spoilers ahead
The version plays out pretty much like the original, with the exceptions outlined above, save that before Malus is placed in the Wicker Man he has his legs broken and obvious CGI bees poured on his face where upon he goes into anaphylactic shock but is revived by his own allergic shot. The Wicker Man burns and the head falls into frame. The End. ? Where is this shock ending think I, so intrigued I flipped the disc. The shock is the suffering of Malus before the sacrifice plus the removal of a scene that sees exactly how the islanders entrap their future victims. I must say that the director's ending is far more satisfying, since it is a near copy of the original, there is no escape this is how it is. The theatrical ending dilutes this and I was happy to see it removed.
Spoilers be over
In the end the film was all rather unsatisfying. Even if you haven't seen the original there are disappointments ahead, my special friend Leanne knows. The film is not a mess, but it messes up in its delivery. Once again the original version outshines this remake, a remake that, lets be honest, should never have been made.
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