There is something majestically terrible about Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man. It is undoubtedly the worst American horror-remake to ever be made, making a conscious effort to highlight references to Robin Hardy’s sensational original but simultaneously pushing aside everything that made its predecessor so unique and artistic. The action is moved from rural Scotland to a rural American village which we are supposed to believe is somewhere within Washington. The simplicity of Hardy’s original in which a police detective explores the disappearance of a young girl is also altered in the latest version. A traffic cop, still haunted by the deaths of a mother and daughter he witnessed in an absurd explosion, suddenly and inexplicably moves into detective work when an ex-fiancé contacts him and pleads for his help in finding her missing daughter. Nicolas Cage’s detective is personally related to the investigation unlike Woodward’s original character. As the policeman begins to look into the young girl’s disappearance he finds that not all the islanders are happy to help. Not knowing who to trust, and doubting the very existence of the child he is trying to find, our policeman sinks into desperation and frustration. His anger grows and is released in several unexpected and hilarious violent outbreaks – the blatant highlights of this horror atrocity. To give the film some credit, Cage has claimed that the movie was intended to be a black comedy and that he acted it accordingly. There is comedy here but how intentional it is is questionable. Everyone has secrets in The Wicker Man and, as he grows more frantic, the cop experiences more and more flashbacks of the weird explosion he witnessed. Will it all tie in? Don’t get your hopes up.
Replacing the forceful Edward Woodward with Nicolas Cage and the charismatic Christopher Lee with another horror icon, Ellen Burstyn, was the remake’s first great error. I don’t wish to dispute that either Burstyn or Cage can act – on the contrary, they are both exceptional screen presences when they posses the right script and story. Sadly, both also give terribly wooden and stale performances when armed with the opposite. The Wicker Man remake doesn’t give its actors much to work with and the result is possibly the worst performances in both actors’ careers. Cage is always amusing to watch when he ventures into this type of bizarre territory. Burstyn has no such saving grace. She doesn’t look like herself, and gives a lazy portrayal of a character made so dramatic and eerie by Lee 33 years prior. It is a disappointing blunder on Burstyn’s behalf that stands as an embarrassment alongside her other work, both contemporary and past. The Wicker Man is an absolute shambles. There is no real development or originality here. Hardy’s original is clearly an inspiration but you can’t help but feel like those responsible for the remake are attempting to improve upon it. If you watched Hardy’s The Wicker Man and believe it needs improving then you’ve missed the whole point. It’s a flawed but imaginative horror classic that balances simplicity and uncertainty. LaBute’s The Wicker Man is far from imaginative. It is limp and confused from start to finish. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or where it wants to go. Much like the original it is muddled and mysterious but for completely different reasons. Most importantly, Hardy’s The Wicker Man is quintessentially British and it could never be efficiently transformed into an American movie. LaBute’s The Wicker Man demonstrates just this; Americanising the original source with abysmally catastrophic results. This just feels like a really bad M. Night Shyamalan movie and I mean that in the worst possible way.
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