Don’t snicker at “The Wicker Man”
What the heck? That was probably actor Nicolas Cage’s response when given the opportunity to star in a remake of 1973’s “The Wicker Man.” (It’s supposedly a cult classic, but who knew?) The gifted actor figured he had starred in nearly every type of movie: comedy, action, serious drama, family, political thriller. Why not try a throwback horror/suspense film?
Given the chance to work with Neil Labute, one of Hollywood’s most original and respected directors (“The Shape of Things,” “Possession,” “In the Company of Men,” “Nurse Betty,” how’s that for diversity?), Cage’s willingness to try something different was understandable.
For most of “The Wicker Man,” Cage’s presence alone makes the film very watchable. He stars as a highway patrolman named Ed who witnesses a horrific car crash as a mother and her young daughter appear to be incinerated before his eyes. While on leave of absence to recover from the emotional trauma of the incident, he receives an urgent message from his ex-fianc?e Willow (Kate Beahan). She desperately needs his help to find her missing daughter, so off Ed travels to the remote island of Summerisle near Puget Sound.
He arrives on the island to find a Female-dominated agrarian society, where men do not speak and are only useful as worker drones. To disclose much more about the island, the archaic rituals and bizarre actions of the inhabitants who aren’t exactly thrilled to have Ed snooping around, would ruin much of the fun of this film. There’s a bit of “The Island of Dr. Moreau’s” creepiness and mystery a la “The Village,” as well as some funny moments (some unintentional) as Ed gets frustrated by the obstacles he confronts trying to solve the puzzle. Eventually he meets clan leader Sister Summerisle (Ellen Burstyn, compelling as always) and his destiny in the form of “The Wicker Man.”
It’s a film that is easy to pick apart, but Cage holds your attention, and enough surprises surface to keep you guessing. Despite a ridiculous and unnecessary coda at the end of the film, “The Wicker Man” feels more believable than this year’s “The Lady in Water,” and is more suspenseful than “The Night Listener”– with a better payoff than either one to boot. It’s certainly not in the same class as Labute’s aforementioned memorable films, but it’s a nice change of pace.
In movies there is “good weird” and “bad weird.” “The Wicker Man” falls in the former category. Even if you don’t care for it, you will love telling people about it.
Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, language, violence, thematic issues.