The Wicker Man (2006)
I realize that there will always be remakes but I continually lament the excessive number of times this path is taken in Hollywood. There are times when reimagining a story is not only understandable it is practically mandatory. The classic themes explored in Shakespeare or the versatile character portrayed by Doyle demand to be revisited by each generation. Then, on the other end of the spectrum are the stories that were either ideally told in the first movie or it lacked the originality to warrant a remake. Somewhere along that sliding scale lies the 2006 reboot of ‘The Wicked Man’. The original British film of 1973 stand as a cut classic and is widely regarded as one of the great examples of horror. Although the themes utilized here deserve reinterpretation a generation later the flick attempting to do so is falls so far short of the creativity and ambiance of the original there is basically no justification for the exercise. There are movies where the thematic content bear’s repetition the classic film should be afforded a certain degree of reverence. Some here back there were rumors of remaking ‘Casablanca’ with Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. That would be sacrilege and an insult to a great work of cinematic art. This 2006 incarnation of ‘The Wicker Man’ comes too close to eliciting the same reaction.
Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) is a police officer who is called away from home to a remote island just off the coast of Washington State by his former fiancée, Willow Woodward (Kate Beahan). She is frantic, their daughter, Rowan (Erika Shaye Gair), is missing. Once Edward arrived he discovers the entire island is inhabited by a group of pagans, technically neo-pagans to be precise. At the center of the group is an elderly woman named Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn). Her hold over the community is absolute; she is unquestionably regarded as a deity worshiped by the group. As she explains to the curious detective the community is descended from an ancient cult of pagans who resided in the English countryside. Because of religious persecution they fled to the New World to continue their practices. While this might sound like the Pilgrims this tight knit group on the island is most definitely Plymouth Rock. Initially they attempted to settle on the east coast but the witch trials provided heavy inducement to relocate as far away as possible.
One thing that Malus cannot help but notice is the lack on men on the island. As the goddess explains they cull out the weak retaining members of the strongest bloodlines, the community does its best to remain separate from the outside world retaining its self-sufficiency by cultivating hives of bees selling their honey on the mainland. In recent years sales have declined cause hardship on the island. As Malus continue to search for his missing daughter ‘his suspicions concerning the village deepen. The villagers are oblique in answering any inquiries concerning Rowan which is made worse when he witnesses some of the villagers moving a large, bloody bag. They take it to the church’s graveyard. When Malus takes a closer look he only finds a burnt doll dumped in a freshly dug grave. His next stop is to try and examine the list of students attending the local school. The teacher, Sister Rose (Molly Parker) attempts to conceal it from him. He does catch a glimpse; enough of a look to note a name crossed out but is openly lied to by the teacher and a young girl who was in Rowan’s class. A brief discussion of the group’s religious teachings ensues particularly how they view death, When Malus asks Rose how Rowan died the teacher slips stating she will be burnt to death. He quickly notices the use of the future tense indicating his daughter is still alive but the group has plans to change that. This does initiate one of the traditional plot points utilized in this sort of horror film; the ticking clock of doom leading to a greatly anticipated religious celebration. On the morning of the big event Malus is desperate to rescue his daughter. He comes across one of the women, Sister Beech (Diane Delano), attired in a bear costume. He manages to knock out another of the celebrants, Sister Honey (Leelee Sobieski), which allows him to steal the bear outfit and infiltrate the parade. The parade is to terminate in front of a large wicker effigy. The list of highly recognizable faces grows during the epilogue with appearances by James Franco and Jason Ritter, which only demonstrates actors with talent and better things to accomplish won’t turn down a paying job.
Although derived from the same fundamental source material the 1973 classic this flick fails to generate even an iota of the suspense or terror. Part of this might be due to the Anglophile effect of a horror movie set in the English countryside. While an island off the American great Northwest is technically suitable it just cannot capture the attention of the audience or sustain the creepy mood beneath the harmless veneer that contributed to the success in 1973. Ellen Burstyn is a great actress, undeniably one of the best but in a role such as this she can’t hold a candle to Christopher Lee. True Ms Burstyn was a star in one of the most iconic horror films ever, ‘The Exorcist’; it was as the distraught mother not the one responsible for generating the terror. Lee is in a class of his own in this regard as demonstrated by his work in Hammer Studio’s movies. A similar observation pertains to the performance of Mr. Cage. His uneven affect undermines his believability as a father and detective desperate to save his child from a terribly painful death. Overall there is a tremendous waste of talent with Leelee Sobieski, Molly Parker and the inimitable Frances Conroy caught in roles that cannot properly showcase their abilities.
Completely lost in this incarnation is the eerie atmosphere that fully pervaded the original. I usually dislike comparing a remake so closely to the original preferring to judge a movie on its own merit but in this instance there is precious little merit to rely on. A horror thriller should generate a modicum of suspense brining the viewer down a dark, twisted path. Here the numbers of outright plot contrivances derail the production forcing it to plod along stumbling from scene to scene. If there was even a touch of originality things might have turned out better but as it stands you are better off sticking to the 1973 version.
Commentary by Writer/Director Neil LaBute, Co-Stars Leelee Sobieski and Kate
Beahan, Editor Joel Plotch and Costume Designer Lynette Meyer