The Wicker Man (2006)

The new remake of The Wicker Man is by no means as bad as it could have been but it still shouldn’t have been made. Although director Neil LaBute was an interesting choice and Nicolas Cage gives a OK performance in the lead role, this version just can’t escape the simple reality that the 1973 original was so unique and effective that remaking it was always a flawed idea.Contrary to what some think, remakes are not always a bad thing.

Ocean’s Eleven and Cape Fear were two films that managed to complement the originals nicely but generally speaking remakes make for bad films. Studio accountants love them because they present an easy opportunity to make a decent pile of cash. If you already own the rights to a film, development costs are low and audiences already have an awareness of the original film so that’s some marketing money saved.

However, from a creative standpoint, there are just too many examples of bad remakes (many of which bombed). You want some evidence? How about Poseidon, Godzilla, The Haunting, Alfie, Get Carter, Planet of the Apes, Charlie’s Angels and The Dukes of Hazard to name just a few? All stunk out multiplexes world wide and left you with a horrible feeling of “why?” that lasted at least until you saw a trailer for yet another one.

To be fair this version of The Wicker Man is a more serious attempt than some of the worst excesses of the genre. But it still falls in to the same dilemma any remake will face. If it changes the story then it is fixing something that isn’t broken and if it stays faithful to the original then why bother at all? There are some changes here that will upset fans of the original but the problem really lies in deciding to remake it in the first place.

The original 1973 film is one of the best British horror films ever made and, despite its poor reception at the time, still stands out as a genuinely unique cult film. If you are unfamiliar it is about a devout Christian police officer (played by Edward Woodward) who travels out to a remote Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. There he comes across a pagan community led by the sinister Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) and is forced to confront his own fears and desires whilst trying to solve the mystery.

Here LaBute has transferred the action to a remote island on Washington State, and Nicolas Cage plays the cop who investigates the disappearance. Apart from location, the main change is that the island is led by a woman – Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn) – and is a matriarchal community to which men play second fiddle. And that is where the problems begin. Although the setting is reasonable faithful (certain shots and scenes are very similar) the colony of female characters on the island just doesn’t work and consequently the film just doesn’t work.

LaBute’s central conceit here is to replace the Christian/Pagan conflict in the original with some sexual politics. He has done this very capably in his best films like In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbours, but it feels all out of place here. As the the story unfolds, virtually all the characters on the island carry little or no menace and at worst come across as laughable (especially when one of the characters puts on some Braveheart-style blue and white makeup).

In order to generate tension, Cage’s character is put through some half hearted escapades involving dodgy barns and deadly bees but none of it comes anywhere near the unique sense of dread in the original. Apart from the misjudged execution, the main problem here is that The Wicker Man is the kind of strange and unique film that just should have been left alone.

I have a feeling that any reinterpretation of the film would only just remind you of how effective Robin Hardy’s original film was – a beguiling experience with terrific performances and a haunting soundtrack. Although LaBute doesn’t bottle the ending (if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I’m talking about, if not, then I won’t spoil it here) he fails to do justice to the material. If you want a genuinely unique horror film then you should see the 1973 version.

> Official site for The Wicker Man remake
> The Wicker Man (2006) at the IMDb
> Reviews at Metacritic for The Wicker Man remake
> Wikipedia on the original film of The Wicker Man
> Extensive new fan site for original Wicker Man