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Wicker Man Thriller Not So Thrilling

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2006 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
<i>Wicker Man</i> Thriller Not So Thrilling

DVD Release Date:  December 19, 2006
Theatrical Release Date:  September 1, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (for disturbing images and violence, language and thematic issues)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time: 102 min.
Director:  Neil LaBute
Actors:  Nicolas Cage, Kate Beahan, Ellen Burstyn, Leelee Sobieski

Don’t let the scary DVD jacket fool you.  This is no horror movie.  You may enjoy a few laughs, though – however unintentional.

During a routine day along the highway, California cop Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage“World Trade Center”) retrieves a doll dropped from a passing car.  When he stops the vehicle and returns it, one of the two passengers, a little girl, impishly tosses it across the road again.  When Malus walks over to retrieve the doll, a semi plows into the car containing the mother and child.  Malus attempts a rescue from the burning wreckage, but it bursts into flames, killing both.

The good Samaritan is left with few injuries but a serious addiction to antidepressants, or maybe painkillers (we’re left to guess), which he uses to ward off the frighteningly real – and frequent – hallucinations about the tragedy.  Soon, however, a letter from an ex-girlfriend gives him something else to worry about.  Malus’ former fiancée, Willow (Kate Beahan“Flight Plan” ), has returned to her childhood home in the Pacific Northwest, to a privately-owned island called Summersisle.  Her daughter Rowan has gone missing, and she is desperate for Malus to help.

Malus travels to Summersisle and begins questioning the island’s inhabitants – who are mostly female and who address one another as “sister,” while eschewing all forms of modern technology, Amish-style.  They dress in clothing from the 1800s and farm honey for a living.  Stranger still, the island’s few male residents carry out all the arduous physical tasks yet appear to be deaf-mute.  They are not, however.  They just don’t speak – even to one another. 

Everyone denies knowing Rowan, despite a plethora of evidence that she exists and is about to be the victim of perhaps another crime.  Soon, however, Malus is fighting for his own life.  He’s also about to realize that the upcoming May Day celebration may have a far more sinister intent than anything he could ever have imagined.

Writer/director Neil LaBute likes to write about the war between the sexes, especially the most sinful aspects which pit us against one another.  His films (“In the Company of Men,” “The Shape of Things”) usually have a strong misogynist bent as well, where women are out to get men and no one can ever be trusted.  Hailed for his realistic portrayals of human nature, LaBute’s work tends to be dark and very depressing, without redemption.  Not surprisingly, none of his films (with the possible exception of “Nurse Betty”) have been box office hits.  And his latest, which has a strikingly similar theme, is no doubt headed for the same fate.

A remake of the 1973 British indie hit by the same name, LaBute’s version transforms the island’s men into women and the main character, formerly a self-righteous Christian, into an agnostic.  He also uses a beehive allegory for the pagan cult of women on the island, complete with a queen bee (played by Ellen Burstyn, “The Fountain”) and drones (the men).  So, while steering clear of the spiritual implications of the original (not necessarily an asset), LaBute plunges into full-scale woman-hating here.  It’s disguised by the character’s own man-hating, but is obvious – even though its reasons are never made clear.

LaBute’s biggest problem, however, is that he doesn’t fulfill his promise to his audience.  The film’s poster shows a little girl with demonic eyes superimposed on a decomposing headshot of Cage, made to look as if his face is being eaten by honey.  This, like the trailer – along with the film’s own promotional taglines and blurbs – tell us we’re going to watch a horror movie.  Instead, it’s more of a thriller.   But oh, how I wish I could say that I was thrilled.

Simply put, the screenplay doesn’t work.  Loose ends abound – like why the two little girls (the one who died in the accident and Rowan) look so much alike; why they never found the bodies of the girl and the mother killed in the fire; or why a pair of elderly twins speak in unison.  There are dozens of improbabilities as well, like the letter that arrives without a stamp, yet is never questioned; the reason the men on the island don’t talk; why all these women hate men so much; and, of course, the big one: how they all manage to sleep with the men (to procreate, yes, we know), yet never become emotionally involved with any of them.

The characters are also implausible, which hinders the acting.  I was so detached from Malus (despite a personal fondness for Cage) that I didn’t ever care what happened, and I certainly wasn’t scared – not even for a moment (and I scare easily).  Then there’s the dialogue.  When Malus told a woman to “step away from the bike” (as in, bicycle), I cringed.  When he said, “Something bad is about to happen.  I can feel it” – toward the end of the film, after dozens of bad things had already happened – the film lost all credibility.  Cage running around in a bear suit didn’t help much, either.  And then there’s the ending, which was supposed to be horrifying, but which had me shaking my head.  In horror, yes – only not at all the kind LaBute intended.

Cage can act, but he’s made some very quirky choices when it comes to films, and this is no exception.  Of course, who can forget Burstyn in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” not to mention the more than one hundred roles that have showcased her talents over the years.  In this case, however, Burstyn would have done well to cast aside the blond wig and "Braveheart" makeup, which definitely overshadow her talent.  Molly Parker, Diane Delano and Frances Conroy are all good, but the film’s absurdities downplay their performances.  And Beahan just needs to lay off the lip collagen.

The cinematography was quite nice, however, as were both the sets and the costumes.  The musical score also stood out, as did the first scene, which was extremely well filmed and very realistic.  As for the rest, however, LaBute may not have made a horror movie, but he did make a horrible one.  Then again, maybe that’s not such a big stretch, anymore.

AUDIENCE:  Older teens and adults

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Side A:  Unrated version with alternate ending not seen in theaters
  • Side B:  Widescreen theatrical release
  • Commentary by writer/director Neil LaBute, co-stars Leelee Sobieski, Kate Beahan, editor Joel Plotch and costume designer Lynette Meyer
  • Theatrical trailer

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Man drinks at bar and indiscriminately pops pills from a prescription bottle.
  • Language/Profanity:  A few obscenities, one strong.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  A couple kisses, speaks of child born out of wedlock.  Brief shot of a man’s nude torso, seen sitting up in bed, and a nude woman covered in insects.  Sexual overtones, though none explicit.
  • Violence:  Mostly conceptual, however one violent car crash and fire in which people die and one intense scene where a man is brutally beaten, as well as several dead, badly decomposing bodies due to violent deaths.