The Wicker Man

on September 01, 2006 by Annlee Ellingson
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At first glance this remake of Brit Robin Hardy's 1973 cult hit of the same name seems an unlikely addition to writer/director Neil LaBute's oeuvre. The filmmaker who has skewered male-female relations with such ferocity in “In the Company of Men,” “Your Friends & Neighbors” and “The Shape of Things” appears to be, oh let's say, slumming it with this studio horror flick. The reality is that LaBute has reworked Anthony Shaffer's original script so that the central conflict isn't between religions but rather, once again, the sexes.

Nicolas Cage, who also produces, stars as Edward Malus, a California cop who is summoned by an ex to the remote island of Summerisle off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Her daughter has gone missing, and she fears the members of her cloistered community are to blame. What he finds when he arrives are not only a coyness about the group's vaguely pagan beliefs and the upcoming observance of “The Day of Death and Rebirth” but a society that is administered solely by the “gentler” gender, with men relegated to silent service and, well, sex.

This doesn't sit well with the testosterone-fueled Malus, who attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery by bullying his way into the distaff idyll with badge and gun drawn -- an approach even the most casual observer knows will get him nowhere, engendering sympathy for this culture, with which something clearly is off, rather than the hero. Loaded with symbolism -- bees serve as an allegory for the hive-like organization of the cult as well as the rebirth at the center of the film's climactic ritual -- “The Wicker Man,” it soon becomes obvious, is headed for a plot twist. But the blatancy of the outcome siphons any intended suspense, already padded by an overbearingly atmospheric score. Starring Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Beahan, Frances Conroy, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski and Diane Delano. Directed and written by Neil LaBute. Produced by Nicolas Cage, Norm Golightly, Avi Lerner, Randall Emmett, John Thompson and Boaz Davidson. A Warner Bros. release. Dramatic thriller. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images and violence, language and thematic issues. Running time: 103 min.
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