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Who would have thought?
Neil LaBute's "Wicker Man" really is as bad as they all said it was. And contains significantly fewer uses of the word "Fuck" than I would have assumed. But then, I have been watching the PG-13 version.

Right. I will assume that you are familiar with the 1973 version and that, for whatever reason, you don't mind me spoiling the LaBute-version for you.

Nicolas Cage plays a police man (a Highway Patrol cop, of all things. One who fails to save a woman and her little daughter from an implausible car crash and who is repeatedly haunted by this throughout the film. That does not make any of it any better.) coming to a remote island in search of a little girl, who in this version turns out to be his daughter. There is a strange pagan cult in this version as well, but one ruled by women, oddly resembling the social structure of a beehive. Which is supposed to be fitting, I guess, seeing that the island's main industry is bee-keeping. Sister Summersisle assures him that men are being loved in this society, too, and that is but a matter of women not being subservient to them. And still, all the men are mute and moving as if something had been done to their brains. Hm....

Edward Malus (yes. His daughter is called Rowan Woodward. See what they did there?) believes that Rowan is supposed to be sacrificed in a pagan ritual to ensure a good crop, but SHOCK! HORROR! it is he who will be sacrificed, the whole thing having been planned many years in advance. Apparently, the young women of the island occasionally pop to the mainland, have themselves impregnated by some guy they pick up in a bar, return to the island and whenever there is need of a sacrifice, they lure the father there and all is well. Except for the father, obviously.
So Edward punches a few women before being subdued and burned in the wicker man. In the coda, we see two women from the island in a New York bar, catching next year's sacrifice.

Cut to face of beautiful girl. She says "Will you take me home tonight?" and looks at the guy longingly, while in the background you hear the bees and Edward's dying screams.
Cut to black. The end.

Here is the thing: I like that last scene. It is a good and creative last scene for a horror B-movie I would happily watch and which would undoubtedly find enough of an audience to be scared by it. Yes, you may find the subtext iffy but at least it works.

This "Wicker Man" on the other hand, is remarkably half-hearted.
My problem isn't that sombody made a remake of "The Wicker Man". LaBute's version sucks on its own and it especially sucks compared to Hardy's film, but that doesn't matter. The 1973 "Wicker Man" endures and is still as good and scary as it was back in the day. No, the remake wasn't necessary but ye Gods, after 30 years, a new version for our times could have worked, particularly with LaBute giving the story a different background and conflict. (Neil LaBute, writing about a conflict between the sexes? My, that is unheard of...)

My problem isn't either that Nicolas Cage overacts his way through the film in a way that Klaus Kinski would have been proud of. The original "Wicker Man" was odd and almost absurd in parts, so why should Cage not keep that going? The condescending way he interacts with the women of Summersisle (and boy, is he condescending!) actually suits the character and nicely sets him up for his eventual fate, much like Howie's intense religious selfrighteousness does. On the other hand it is true that Malus never takes any of the island's society seriously, at best belittling it while Howie at least intensely objected to what he found on Christopher Lee's island, thus taking it seriously.

But it's all so half-arsed. Oh look, the schoolchildren know what a phallus is. Did you know that the island is run by women and the men are... mute and docile? So fucking what? A lot of things are hinted at but the film never has the courage to go all the way and make the horror or the conflict palpable. In the original, all the inhabitants were weird even if you yourself did not share Howie's worldview while all the women of the New Summersisle are actually quite levelheaded and reasonable. ....except for that sacrifice thing, obviously.
But when Nicolas C. starts punching some of them, you do not feel that he is really fighting for his life or doing the sensible thing in the face of a crazy enemy dead set on killing him, you just think that he continues to be as bonkers as he started.

The whole thing is just meh.


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