Remakes. The very word divides film fans across the globe, some believing it destroys the source material and others arguing that it brings the subject matter to a new audience. There have been amazing successes in the field of remakes in which the successor was better than the original but more-often-than-not there are countless reinterpretations that destroy both the vision and reputation of the original. The Wicker Man is sadly one of these films, an abomination of a film that’s not only an insult to Robin Hardy’s classic 1973 film, it’s also an insult to your intelligence.
Director Neil La Bute makes some wise decision on paper, relocating the drama from a windswept Scotland island to a location off the coast of Washington State and turns the focus onto a bizarrely secretive religious community, not too far from Mormonism, but he fails to make these changes interesting or absorbing. He throws out any interest in making the feature grounded in real life and instead throws in made-up clichés and fairy tales in the hope of making the story scary and involving. Needless to say it doesn’t succeed, rather it turns a timeless premise of religious difference into a laughable
The story centers on Edward Malus, a cop who travels to Summersisle to respond to a bizarre letter from his ex-fiancée Willow that asks him to trace her missing daughter, Rowan. The female driven community welcomes him initially but as time passes he begins to believe that the religious community are planning to burn the little girl as a sacrificial offering.
Considering LaBute has demonstrated great skill with Possession and In the Company of Men it’s bizarre that The Wicker Man is such a heavy-handed, exposition-ridden mess. The cast turns in admirable efforts but is weighed down by a script devoid of merit; every one-note filmmaking cliché is here in abundance such as the honest but haunted cop, the mysterious and alluring woman, the overly dramatic nemesis and plot holes large enough to sail the Titanic through.
LaBute chooses not to focus on what made the original great, such as the Christianity versus Paganism allegory, and ditches any battles of mythology in favor of a bland plotting and been-there-done-that Hollywood action. Cage deserves special praise for turning in an admirable effort despite the material he has to deliver but there’s no reason to really give a damn, the film crawls along at a snail’s pace and anybody hoping for a glimpse of the originals sexiness should leave right now. Instead of a naked Britt Ekland you’re treated to a woman’s lib gone wild and not even a knowing self-indulgent wink in sight.
There’s some potential here but Cage’s torment and the religious comparisons are never really explored beyond one-line retorts. The Wicker Man maintains only one similarity to the original; both versions are horrific, albeit for drastically different reasons.