The Wicker Man

Of all the movies that Neil LaBute could remake, 1973's The Wicker Man seems like an odd choice.  After watching the remake, it definitely is the wrong choice.  LaBute (The Shape of Things, Possession) has dabbled in many genres, but is most famous for cutting, incisive looks at relationships.  Horror a la The Wicker Man (a cult classic with a cult following) is something new, and LaBute falters heavily.  Aside from the opening sequence, there are few scares.  instead, the movie comes off as boring, talky, and long despite the fact that it is only barely over ninety minutes.

The film begins with police officer Edward Malus (Nicholas Cage, World Trade Center, The Ant Bully) assisting a young mother and her daughter.  He crosses the street to retrieve a toy, and a truck slams into the car, trapping them both.  Later, the report finds no evidence of two people in the car.  Malus is in complete shock.  He receives a letter from an ex-fiancee, asking for help.  Willow's (Kate Beehan, Flight Plan, The Matrix Revolutions) daughter is missing, and she wants Malus to find her.  Malus is the only person she trusts.  Malus agrees, and travels to the island she lives on.  It is a commune, and everybody is extremely hostile to Malus.

The main problem is that everything comes across as excessively artificial. People react only like they do in the movies, and Malus reacts to them only the way a movie character would. He has zero authority on this small island, and everybody knows it including himself, yet that doesn't seem to stop him. Worse, people ignore him or argue with him, instead of simply kicking him off like any normal people would. But these aren't normal people, they're weird cult-like island people, who live in a matriarchy dominated by Sister Summerside (Ellen Burstyn, Down in the Valley, Red Dragon). The men do the menial work and avoid Malus completely. Willow is extremely afraid of something, yet refuses to give any meaningful information to Malus. Beehan just sits there, wide-eyed and stone-faced, acting strange, like everybody else does. The result is pretty frustrating - it's hard to believe that a mother concerned for her daughter would not just come out and say what is going on, even when the two are alone in the woods away with everybody else.

There is a point to all this artificiality, and most people will see it coming about halfway through the movie. LaBute doesn't give it away, but also makes no attempts to hide where the film is going. This saps The Wicker Man of much of its suspense - instead of an overall feeling of dread, one gets annoyed by how the people, especially Malus act. As LaBute gets further into the movie, it just gets worse and worse. The real sad part is that it's never bad enough to be silly.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated PG-13 for disturbing images and violence, language, and thematic issues.

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