Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Wicker Man (2006)

Directed by Neil LaBute.
2006. Rated PG-13, 102 minutes.
Nicolas Cage
Ellen Burstyn
Kate Beahan
Frances Conroy
Molly Parker
Leelee Sobieski
Diane Delano

Police officer Edward Malus (Cage) witnesses a mother and daughter get killed when an out of control eighteen-wheeler smashes into their vehicle during a traffic stop. While on leave following this traumatic event, he receives a letter from his former fiancĂ©e Willow (Beahan) letting him know that her daughter is missing somewhere on the Summersisle, where they live. It seems to be a largely self-sufficient and private farming community. Sensing that he may be Willow’s only hope to find her little girl, Edward travels to the island in hopes of saving the day. This is even harder than he imagines because when he gets there no on will admit to having even heard of her. They’re also a really tight-knit cult under the rule of Sister Summersisle (Burstyn). To say Malus is given the run-around is putting it lightly.

The plot’s skeleton is the same as the 1973 original. The flesh surrounding it is something else entirely. In lieu of the wacky approach to story-telling taken by its predecessor, this one favors more conventional methods. It settles into being rather run of the mill with no sense of wonder or fun. Many of the original’s outrageous elements are completely stripped away. The rest is put through a strainer until we’re left with the dried meat of a PG-13 thriller designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

The point of our story is also different. Whereas the original tests our notions of right and wrong, of religion itself, and seems to sling its ending at us from deep left field, the remake narrows its focus and telegraphs its conclusion. By narrowing the focus, I mean things are much more personal for our hero this time around. True, in the older flick his sensibilities are offended by the locals and he searches diligently for answers to his philosophical questions and the whereabouts of the girl. This time, however, he’s connected to the case in such a way that it is simply all about him. This ties into the finale because we can plainly see that all of the goings on are concentrated on his actions and we are occasionally shown women having conversations that spell out their ill will. What happens is that even though the ending plays out similarly in both movies they feel markedly different. As mentioned, the original tackles some rather large and possibly magnanimous themes. This one seems born of a misogyny fueled paranoia about man’s lessening stature in the world, the increasing power of women and the feeling of emasculation it gives to those suffering from its grips.

I’m not one to automatically disparage remakes, but this one really does pale in comparison to the original. That, however, is not its biggest problem. The most pressing issue is that as a standalone film it’s a rather hum-drum experience. It can be easily filed away as yet another picture in which Nicolas Cage is kind of quirky and a bit of a smart-alec. Nothing it does separates it from his rather large pack of terrible movies. You know what? I’m not even blaming him, nor anyone else involved in making this. I’m beyond that, for now. I’m blaming you John or Jane American. That’s right. You. Why? It’s simple. All of the unique qualities of the original were ripped from its predecessor because the powers that be think you can’t handle it and won’t fork over your hard earned bucks to see something that takes the less beaten path. Therefore, instead of something that embraces the oddity that is the first movie, we get this.

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