Ladies and Gentlemen, this review has been certified as being SPOILER FREE for your reading pleasure. Thank-you.
No, I'm sorry. I normally have a no spoiler policy, but I need to bitch about this film, and to bitch one must reveal certain things. Do not go watch this film. I took one for the team here; don't let it be in vain. Which makes the tagline of the film all the more appropriate...
Some sacrifices must be made
The Wicker Man is a remake of the 1973 cult classic of the same name. It stars Nicolas Cage as the protagonist Edward Malus, a man who receives a letter from his ex-fiancée, Willow Woodward (played by Kate Beahan), begging him to come to Summers Isle to help her find her missing daughter. Now, have you already spotted something there? *Edward* Malus? Willow *Woodward*? That's right, the screenplay writer and director, Neil LaBute, named the main characters to pay homage to Edward Woodward (or Ewar Woowar as I call him due to some now-forgotten joke from my childhood*) who played the protagonist in the original film. If he were dead, he'd be turning in his grave; as it is he's probably just sitting on his Stannah Stairlift muttering various cuss words to himself under his breath. He was offered a cameo in the movie. For some reason that I can't fathom, he declined.
Summers Isle is a small, privately owned island off the coast of Washington state in the north-west Pacific. It is mostly unknown, but is in the business of producing honey for export to the mainland in order to keep themselves self-sufficient. When Malus finally manages to arrive on the island, he finds that the missing girl, Rowan Woodward (Erika-Shaye Gair), is denied to have ever existed by the residents of Summers Isle. However, the more he questions them, the more he finds to convince himself that the girl is either dead, or has been kidnapped for reasons as yet unknown.
Okay, that's the brief synopsis.
Now for the bitching.
This is a bad, bad film. It would be a bad film if it stood by itself; but standing next to the original Wicker Man, it may as well just bury itself under the M3 now and have done with it. The screenplay is the most loosely tied-up garbage that I've had the misfortune to have to endure in a long time. It makes the mistake of attempting to combine sections of the original film script with new dialogue that was necessary to cover for the major plot changes that they decided to make to bring the film 'more up to date' with today's perceived audience demographic.
Oh, god, the plot changes. I don't even know where to start.
Okay, the first really big fuck-up is the change in the society and beliefs of Summer Isle. The original was an extremely well researched portrayal of a community who have rejected the teachings of Christianity, and instead returned to the pagan beliefs and way of life that existed before monotheism took hold. The new Summers Isle is an example of feminism gone too far. The women are in charge, and the men are docile, servile mutes (referred to as 'drones') who seem to do a lot of lifting of heavy stuff. And that's it.
Now I can see what LaBute was trying to achieve with this plot change. The original film was rooted in a pagan culture that forty years ago was probably considered to be a controversial way of life. Nowadays, a matriarchal society (where women are the unopposed controlling gender) would also be considered to be controversial, thus challenging the audience's expectations of what a community can or should be. He backs this up by changing the crop of the island to be honey (as opposed to fruit in the original), reinforcing of the concept of a successful, productive female-led human society by showing them to be working with, gathering, and selling the crop of a successful, productive female-led insect society. Malus's concept of what is 'normal' (a patriarchal society) is still challenged as it was in the original, allowing him to still portray a man made increasingly desperate and lost in unfamiliar social territory. But what really annoys is that the main religion of the island is still presented as being paganistic in nature, but so inaccurately it made my eyes bleed. The dominance of one gender over another is not what the paganistic belief system is actually about. This is probably ignorable for the uniformed, but to those who hold the original close to their hearts, it's nothing short of sacrilege.
The protagonist is also no longer portrayed as a deeply religious man, a devout catholic, which indicates that LaBute failed to grasp another core element of the original film – that is, the juxtaposition of two belief systems that are at the same time parallel in their implicit faith despite a lack of proof to back-up said belief. This implied that both belief structures were equally valid; in the remake the islanders say that their way is the right way, and there's no argument from Malus to challenge this belief. Plus there's no moaning of "Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!" as the protagonist is dragged toward the Wicker Man, which is probably the best part of the original; it's certainly the one quote that everyone remembers.
Despite the loss of the opposing force of Christianity in the film, he has kept the derelict church in the story. However, this jars with the story told by Sister Summersisle that when they arrived on the island they were already religious refugees pursued across America for their beliefs. Talk about a plot hole. It's also still got a maypole in the background of one scene, despite the fact that men don't play an active part in the society. Did anyone read this script with their brain switched on before they started filming?
Okay, now I'm just being petty; back to the constructive bitching.
So, focusing on the final scene of the Wicker Man.... As it burns in the original, the villagers sing and dance as they would at a village fair. Everyone is happy, and the ceremony itself is depicted something that is a normal part of society; all this time the protagonist is screaming and chanting extracts of the bible to comfort himself as he is martyred. The thing that shocks the audience is the realisation that moral normality is dictated by the majority, and what they perceive as being an atrocious, cruel act perpetrated against a man who did nothing but try to live his life as his faith dictated him to, is to others a cause of celebration. In the remake, the villagers instead just stand chanting like brain-washed members of a cult. You are not shocked by this. Cultists do strange things that you already know not to be 'normal'. Your knowledge that the act is wrong is not challenged by those responsible for it being, not only unmoved, but also actively celebrating and enjoying the experience.
Also, for some unknown reason, Sister Summersisle still tells Malus that he is being martyred as a consolation for what he is about to endure. But he's not a devout Christian; this would mean nothing to him. It's just a line kept from the original script to... actually I don't know why they kept it from the original script. There're a lot of things about this film that leave me thinking 'Why...? Just... why?'
Actually, I can't do this anymore. The more I think about this film, the more I can feel vital organs in my abdominal cavity clenching with frustration. There's still so much more to say, but I can't do it. The reason that Malus is drawn to the island. The flashbacks that he keeps having for no apparent reason about an incident that is never actually explained. The depiction of females as being sinister beings, and their cruel treatment of males. Malus's character and his relationship with Willow. Scenes from the trailer that aren't in the actual movie.
The lack of singing of catchy folk songs for fucks sake.
Look, the take-home message is, if you love the original, DO NOT GO AND SEE THIS FILM. Don't waste two hours of your life like I have. I watched it so that you don't have to. I don't think I can emphasise this enough.
If morbid curiosity does tempt you to put yourself through this, make sure to have a copy of the original to go back to at the end of it.
You're going to need it.
Running time: 102 minutes
Writer and director: Neil LaBute
spiregrain says: re The Wicker Man: The Onion AV Club recons there is a mysoginistic streak in this; with Cage blundering about puching women in the face. Did you find that as well as being stupid, it was malign in that way?
Oh, god, yes. Thank you for reminding me, because that was another point that I felt that I had to mention (but obviously forgot to). At one point, he roundhouse kicks a young girl in the face, making her fly back against the wall on the other side of the room. What the fuck? That scene actually made me wince. I mean how much of an overreaction is that? Didn't his mother ever tell him that you shouldn't hit girls? That counts for roundhouse kicking them in the face as well, you twat. He had also seconds before punched her mother in the face; I think that's an entirely valid reason for her to be attacking him in the first place.
Jesus H fucking Christ.
*Oolong says: re The Wicker Man: 'Why does Edward Woodward have four Ds in his name?'
Thank-you. I knew one of you would do me the favour of reminding me what that joke was.