Psychologically damaged policeman Edward Malus travels to the mysterious Summersisle in response to a note from his ex-fiancée. It seems her daughter is missing, and she fears the feminist, pagan cult, to which she belongs, has kidnapped her. Edward takes the obvious tact of falling through rotting barn floors, locking himself in a submerged crypt, and getting stung by bees in order to solve the crime. Ah, it might not be clever detecting, but it does allow for something to happen in the otherwise dead second act of the film. He also takes time out to have irrelevant dreams so that supernatural-looking events could get stuck in the trailer. And then he beats up Leelee Sobieski, which sounds more interesting than it is.
It would be natural to start this review with some expletive that could express my shock at what a confused, boring, and meaningless disaster Neil LaBute has made of the brilliant 1973 The Wicker Man, but I wasn’t shocked. I had a few moments of weakness, when I thought it was possible that a new take on the material could result in something interesting. But who was I, or LaBute, kidding. This project had Battlefield Earth written all over it.
LaBute, best known for In the Company of Men, removes the religious commentary in favor of his favorite topic: the war between the sexes. But it goes nowhere. Yes, the island society is a matriarchy, but we learn little about it, and nothing in the film compares and contrasts the behavior differences of the genders (unless Edward’s wild thrashing about is supposed to be representative of male action, and nasty smirking defines female life, in which case the film should be titled The Straw Man, not The Wicker Man). Outside of knowing glances and comments made in hostile tones, the cult women do nothing, and Sister Summersisles gets little screen time. Gone are the religious debates between Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) and the sanctimonious policeman. In their place are a few moments of snarking.
Gone as well are the songs and sexuality that marked the original. It’s just as well that no attempt was made to update the musical numbers (the thought of Leelee Sobieski barking out a hip hop seduction number sends shivers up my spine), but the nudity and free, gleeful attitudes of the pagans are sorely missed. Besides being exceptionally entertaining, Britt Ekland dancing in the buff made the pagans sympathetic, and thus made for a complicated movie. No such complications here. These femi-pagans are unlikable from the start.
OK, so all the original’s themes are gone, as is its artistry. There’s none of the interesting Christian vs. pagan moments and none of the titillation. But does this The Wicker Man stand up on its own, as a different type of movie—a pure, mindlessly, popcorn-chomping, horror flick? Not for a minute. It doesn’t need a masterpiece for comparison to prove that it sucks. It proves it all by itself, with every ridiculous scene. It’s never frightening nor tense, unless you count some gratuitous jump scares: Edward falls through a floor for no reason; Edward is attacked but it turns out to be a dream. There’s even the doubly annoying ‘fake scare, wake up, second fake scare, really wake up” routine.
Character’s change their behavior arbitrarily. If you can make sense of either Edward or Sister Honey, you’re a better person than I, or you’re just better at self delusion. You’d get more consistent personalities with a random dialog generator. As for the all important twist ending that made the ’73 version so memorable, it is dropped on the table at the midway point. There’s no surprise, and no shock.
You could make a game out of spotting the many plot threads that are left dangling. The men on the island are mute and stay there in servitude because…? There’s a woman with bees on her face because…? The pilot, who had to be in on the plan or we’ve got yet another plot hole, is murdered because…? Honey asks to be taken away because…? Honey attacks Edward because…? There are twins everywhere because…? (This is part of the bee hive metaphor that goes nowhere.) Edward doesn’t ask Willow who it is that is watching her or why because…? Perhaps the most bothersome unanswered question is: what happened to the mother and daughter hit by the semi? Was that supposed to be staged? It isn’t possible with the information we’re given, but then what is the point of it and how is it connected to the pagans?
But there may be a second life to The “New” Wicker Man, as a comedy. It was impossible to watch this film in a theater without hearing laughter that increased as the film went on. By the time Cage is doing martial arts wearing bear feet (yes, that’s bear feet, not bare feet), there’s no sign left of anything serious. This could become a new audience participation flick, where everyone comes in furry slippers and yells, “You bitch,” at the screen every time it’s appropriate, which makes it a few hundred times.
Lacking in plot, dialog, setting, concept, theme, sense, emotional impact, acting, and entertainment, LaBute’s The Wicker Man has nothing but unintentional hilarity.