Monday, 6 April 2009

Keeping an unfortunate appointment with The Wicker Man... remake.

"Something bad is about to happen, I can feel it" warns a stony-faced Nicolas Cage. If only that line opened Neil LaBute's Wicker Man remake, it would have made a lot more sense. 

If anything, you really have to wonder what the point of the film is - for the most part, remakes are generally poor reinterpretations made by directors who claim that the original needs to be 'brought up to date' for a modern audience. Perhaps in some very special cases they occasionally get away with such a bold move if the resulting remake manages to usurp the original as the definitive version. But there are some films where a remake simply isn't appropriate and 1973's The Wicker Man is definitely one of them - 35 years on, the original remains as vital and provocative as it ever was, now a cult phenomenon whose followers hold the movie in an almost untouchable, yet affectionate regard.

From the outset then, it's somewhat of an understatement to say things do not look good for LaBute's version. Not only does he have to compete with, as well as plausibly reinterpret, an original now deemed to be one of the classic British films of the 20th Century, but he also has to work against the inevitable and unshakeable bias of thousands of wannabe pagans all over the world. 
With that in mind, the fact the director then decided to plough on and remake something as utterly unremakeable as The Wicker Man anyway, you have to wonder if he's some kind of camera-bound masochist.

It seems that LaBute has realised that taking the plot of the 1973 movie and trying to meet it head on is doomed to fail. 
So in what is presumed to be a 'clever' sidestep, he has completely deviated from the story and attempted to leave his mark all over the Wicker Man legacy, effectively by changing it. In reality this was probably the last thing the film needed; what he's actually done is taken a very succinct and effective modern folk-story that makes some interesting commentary about ideas surrounding belief and sacrifice... and turned it into a confusing supernatural thriller starring Nicolas Cage.

Yes, Nicolas Cage. In The Wicker Man. If the concept seems ludicrous in writing then you should see it happening in front of your eyes. 

Cage plays a policeman lured to a pagan island as part of an investigation of a missing girl, a role previously played by Edward Woodward in the original. But whereas Woodward's character was deeply conflicted between sexual temptation and the purity of his faith, the only personal issues Cage's cop seems to have is an unfortunate allergy to bees. And you'll never guess what - this is not just an island of pagans, but an island of pagan bee-keepers, which I'm sure you can imagine turns out to be pretty inconvenient for him.

Annoyingly, the film's setting has been moved to what we are supposed to believe is a remote island off the east coast of America (?!), which means any of the celtic symbolism just feels completely out of place. The stand off between Christianity and Paganism that forms the crux of the original movie seems to have been replaced with the idea of one man vs an island of women, and consequently loses all the philosophical and theological gravity that gave the original so much substance. 

Edward Malus (Cage) once again finds his investigations hindered by an allergy to bees in The Wicker Man. 

In fact, for what is supposed to be taken as, I assume, a serious horror flick, in terms of ridiculousness, The Wicker Man takes some beating - the script is awful, the plot doesn't make any sense, the film moves along at a pace which could be described as 'pedestrian' at best, and Nicolas Cage just runs around mostly looking completely bemused, occasionally shouting and threatening the locals, before donning a bear suit towards the film's climax and screaming "Bitches" as a gang of matriarchal bee-keepers smash his knees in. 

And after all that you are left none the wiser and probably with more questions than answers; why did the things that happened... happen? 

More importantly, why was this film ever made??

Bizarrely, for those reasons alone, I actually suggest you take the time see it.

Answers on a postcard please.