When to Walk Out

Movie Reviews For People Whose Time Counts

The Wicker Man (2006)

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Last year I rented the original The Wicker Man (1973) as part of a self-hosted pre-Halloween spooky film festival. I couldn’t bear the painfully slow-paced opening, so I aborted it and never looked back. Unfortunately I didn’t have a site like this to tell me whether the rest of the film was worthwhile. The recommendations and build-up rank it as one of the all-time quirky cult horror classics, a mix of creepy pagan rituals, promiscuous nudity, strangely awkward musical numbers, gruesome violence, and a horrifically shocking ending. It has been described as A Clockwork Orange meets Eyes Wide Shut meets The Village.

Now there’s a remake starring and produced by Nicolas Cage and directed by Neil LaBute (Nurse Betty).

No question, this is a BAD movie. Badly acted, directed, and executed. But bad in a good way. My first impression was “Wow Nicolas Cage is destroying this movie”. But don’t walk out too soon. Cage isn’t one of my favorites, but on occasion he can portray an interesting and believable character as well as anyone (Leaving Las Vegas, Matchstick Men, The Family Man, and recently in World Trade Center). In The Wicker Man, he’s at his all-time worst, as if parodying himself trying to resurrect MST3K. But the fun from this breed of bad movie comes from its sincerity. As revealed in a recent interview, these guys were truly trying to create a great scary movie. Mixed in among Cage’s laughable rantings is some great spooky imagery, provocative creepishness, and two or three fine acting jobs.

Cage plays a motorcycle cop (Edward Malus) emotionally damaged by unfair and abrupt endings, a love affair in his distant past that ended without closure, and more recently a traumatic and mysterious accident involving a little girl. He seemingly gets a chance to resolve both issues when he receives an unstamped letter from his enigmatic lost love, now living on a remote island called Summersisle. There a neo-pagan matriarchal cult lives in isolation from normal society. The letter is a plea for help from his former fiance. Her little girl has vanished on the island and she suspects foul play. Malus naively rushes off to help and is hopelessly stifled and outwitted by the coven-like inbred natives who begrudgingly tolerate his arrival. There’s more to the disappearance of the little girl than he imagines, and he gets drawn into a nightmare of danger and frustration.

Cage plays the Malus character as a bumbling jerk who’s self-absorbed and insensitive. He’s hard to like and easy to laugh at. A lot has been made of Cage’s donning a bear suit and running through the woods in the lead-up to the climax, but by that point it flows with the story better than most of Cage’s reactions to his circumstances.

The premise succeeds in one respect, though inconsistently, in the portrayal of several of the “sisters” of Summersisle. Ellen Bernstyn as the God-like cult leader is formidable and well-acted, in dubious comparison to Tony Danza’s similar role that only an unfortunate few will remember from the disastrous Illtown. Rather than mulching, Sister Summersisle’s passion is honey cultivation, and its importance to the community is highlighted by her entourage of beautiful young hand-maidens in contrast to the mute man-slaves that serve the lesser sisters. Molly Parker (Men with Brooms) is stunning as a school teacher who obstructs Malus’ investigation while subtly squashing his fragile manhood. David Mamet fans will coo over her as an heir apprarent to Rebecca Pidgeon.

The sisters are maddeningly evil but they’re so principled, poised and composed that it feels unfair when Malus starts tackling and karate-kicking them. No worry, their acting superiority reflects their dominance over the hapless Malus and doesn’t bode well for the difficulty he’ll have uncovering their secrets.

When to walk out: Immediately after the climax

If you can resist comparisons to the original, persevere through Cage’s poor acting and enjoy the humor of not-meant-to-be-funny moments, stay until very near the end. After the obvious climax, the remainder seems to have been added as a cooldown to preserve a PG rating.

September 3, 2006 Posted by | Recent Releases | 1 Comment