Review: The Wicker Man

The horror genre, at least in modern times, seems primarily hinged upon a number of fundamental tendencies. Of these, perhaps the most prevalent is the remake mentality, spawning an apparently incessant flow of reboots and rehashes of the successful horrors of times gone by. Many will argue for the justification of such remakes on the basis that the original films are now little known to the public en masse, a criterion arguably well-applied to The Wicker Man, its combined statuses as Scottish, cult, and from the 1970s making it ripe for a modern updating.

Summoned by his ex-fiancé to the remote Washington island of Summersisle in order to search for her missing daughter, Edward Malus finds the task complicated by the unhelpful villagers, their unusual beliefs in a feministic paganism angling them against his intrusive inquisitions.

An argument frequently put forward against the remake culture which dominates contemporary mainstream horror is that it is only films which originally failed that should be remade, their flaws addressed and remedied through new ideas and technologies. The term classic is employed for a reason, the films therewith identified revered precisely for their few problems, leaving little to improve upon. This is certainly the side of the argument which grows ever more convincing when watching the 2006 take on The Wicker Man. Where in 1973 we were met with the ardent fervour of Edward Woodward, here we are given instead the errant histrionics of Nicolas Cage, a man now almost unanimously accepted to be poisonous to the good name of cinema. Apparently unsure of which of his two stock personalities to call upon—those being his dull, near-comatose “dramatic” and his absurd over-the-top action persona—Cage flitters blindingly between both, producing a performance that is staggering in its lunacy. Whether commandeering a bicycle at gunpoint or punching a woman in the face whilst masquerading as a bear, every moment we are subjected to his untamed hysteria is wince-inducingly awful. It should come as no surprise, considering the above described events in the film’s narrative, that the script is little better than the efforts of those hired to interpret it. In its original form, The Wicker Man was a wonderfully strange and hypnotic exploration of the despotism and oppressiveness of religiously-oriented society expressed primarily through the interactions of the Christian policeman and the pagan lord. Interestingly, much of these characters’ dialogue is preserved for the remake, though in the mouths of Cage and Ellen Burstyn—Christopher Lee’s counterpart, bizarrely—it has none of the wit or dramatic resonance. What is uninteresting, and the final disheartening straw, is that the description “Christian policeman” no longer applies, Malus’ religion never discussed whatsoever, leaving the clash of cultures and ideologies absent entirely, and thereby adding theme, purpose, and any kind of meaning to the list of items in which this film lacks. Without subtext, and with a notably fatuous and feeble plot, what remains in this story? Here’s a hint: it starts with “no”, and ends with “thing”.

Lacking in even the cheap scares many of its fellow horror remakes offer, The Wicker Man is simply dreadful in every way imaginable. A film this demoralisingly hideous is one thing, but to be so in attempting to recreate the magisterial splendour of a true genre great is a cinematic atrocity. If ever there was proof of the foolishness of remaking classics, this is it: definitive evidence that there is no facet as great as originality.

2/100 - A film this demoralisingly hideous is one thing, but to be so in attempting to recreate the magisterial splendour of a true genre great is a cinematic atrocity.

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Ronan Doyle

Director of Movies On Demand & Sr. Staff Film Critic at Next Projection
Having spent the vast majority of my life sharing in the all too prevalent belief than cinema is merely dumbed-down weekend escapism for the masses, I was lucky enough to turn on a television at the exact right moment to have my perspectives on the medium completely transformed. Those first two and a half hours marked the beginning of a new life revolving around—maybe even depending upon—the screen and the depth of artistry, intellectual stimulation, and emotional exhilaration it can provide.

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