The Wicker Man

| September 3, 2006

It’s hard to be cynical about The Wicker Man, a supposed horror-thriller concocted with such boredom that it excels in nothing, not even in being a joyfully awful Nicolas Cage catastrophe. It’s a blunt zero, a mound of crumbs, a guileless work of art conceived by filmmakers who apparently shrug in their sleep.
The story, rehashed from the 1973 cult Brit hit of the same name, features Cage as a glum cop lured into a mysterious Northwestern mountain town by an ex-lover’s claim that her daughter has gone missing. He asks around and quickly realizes he’s stuck in a cult-y commune. Y’know, the creepy ones where everyone addresses everyone as “Sister” and “Brother” and churns their own butter. (!!) He also realizes the town has its men largely relegated to servant roles; it’s all run by the women. Y’know, the creepy ones with the leadership positions. (!!!) Soon enough, he’s haunted by images and cries and stray red sweaters which he believes all belong to the MacGuffin of a missing girl. Y’know, the creepy one who isn’t like the creepy one from The Ring, or Resident Evil, or The Ring Two, or Silent Hill, or The Shining, or Resident Evil: Apocalypse. (!!!!… zzzz.)
Some viewers want their horror movies bad. If we can’t get the high-minded terror of The Silence of the Lambs or the elegant, visceral thrill of The Exorcist, give us cheap gore, cheap dialogue, cheap laughs!
Sad to report, the well’s still dry. There’s a shocking paucity of tension here. The score comes off store-bought, the visuals make an Adam Sandler flick seem noir, and Nicolas Cage’s performance all but screams “When’s lunch?” And this is where The Wicker Man gets especially cruel. It tries not at all for greatness or decentness, sure, but the ultimate buzzkill is that it doesn’t even strive for the polar opposite. If the filmmakers didn’t care in either direction, if rabid fans of the parent film were reportedly begging Hollywood not to remake it, if Nicolas Cage isn’t due to starve any day soon…
Why make it?
Why remake any film? The immediate, frustrated answer, we know it well: “Hollywood’s out of ideas.” A film could be worth remaking, though, if its ideas are worth updating, modifying to reflect the differences in a moviegoing public before and a moviegoing public now. (Cases in point: Ocean’s Eleven. Freaky Friday. Scarface.)
The new Wicker Man has the idea of ideas, but promptly falls asleep on them. Women vs. men? Technology vs. without? Religion vs. secular? Haunted city cops vs. creepy mountain cults?
The ingredients for a solid good movie are indeed present, just as much as the ingredients for a solid bad one. To his credit, Neil LaBute gets the bad-movie mojo working for the film’s final twenty minutes, in which he finally unleashes the silly one-liners, plot twists, and animal costumes from his Bag of Non-Tricks.
Till then, The Wicker Man is a sorry display of what happens when a movie forgets the reason it exists. Thrill, thought, catharsis? The Wicker Man dances around all three before settling on lazy new millennium window dressing and finally sinking into its own quicksand of effortless boredom.

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