Movie-Hype (#743) - THE WICKER MAN
I am a huge Neil LaBute fan. He seems to be able to dramatize the inherent power struggle between men and women better than any modern filmmaker. His thematic trilogy on the war between the sexes (IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS, THE SHAPE OF THINGS) is a tour-de-force.
So, when I found out LaBute was set to remake THE WICKER MAN, I had high hopes. Nicholas Cage is always game for anything, and while LaBute had never done a horror film, he'd never done a literary adaptation or a Romance before, yet POSSESSION is one of my favorite movies this decade. So why not a remake?
To start with, the 1973 version of THE WICKER MAN is revered by anglophiles and horror fans alike. Any time you decide to tread on hallowed ground, you're asking for trouble. (Just ask Gus Van Sant.) This leads us to the second question: why remake a classic at all?
I understand the impulse. LaBute was a big fan of the original, but obviously most modern movie watchers are more familiar with the Torture Fad or Zombies or Slasher films or vampires than an atmospheric British film about a weird little island where things are not as they seem. I get wanting to bring that to a new audience.
More importantly, LaBute felt he something to add, a new version of the vision, if you will. Knowing LaBute's work well, and the way he sees and structures movies, I get what he was trying to do here too.
But man, you gotta thread that needle. When you're working with "atmosphere" as your main weapon, especially with today's modern audience, there is a thin line between genuine creepy and genuinely campy.
So, here's the deal: Nicholas Cage, a cop, receives word from his ex-fiance that her daughter has gone missing on Summersisle, a private island off the coast of Washington. (It should be noted that Cage's character lives in a different state, but apparently his local cop's badge is one of those across America kinds.)
Anyway, the age of this missing daughter backtracks to when his fiance suddenly left him (including gestation), and if you haven't figured out Nic is going to drop everything and head to Summersisle, you really shouldn't be watching movies at all.
What happens there.....you know, I just don't want to say anything specific. Why ruin it? I will say that you should pay careful attention to the clues while you're watching, but don't expect it all to make sense after it ends.
I'm torn here, because of my loyalty to LaBute. Understanding what (I think) he was about, I viewed the movie through that prism from moment one, and thus was entertained, if not overly-impressed. But how many people have my knowledge going in? I can certainly understand the spate of bad reviews and negative comparisons to the original. Frankly,LaBute probably should have just come up with his own idea to explore the themes he was interested in.
My best advice is, if interested, watch the original. However, if you're game for this version, there are really only two ways to be successful. The first is NOT to view the film literally. Accept the story as it's happening, but try to view the whole thing as a morality tale; perhaps one that Gloria Steinem might tell at a N.O.W. rally.
The other way to watch THE WICKER MAN is to MST-3K it. Actually, you might get a lot more excitement this way. The creepy factor goes away, but the giggles go up exponentially, and about the time Cage dons a bear suit you should be howling with glee.
Say what you want about Cage, the man is game and puts his heart into what he's doing. As does LaBute. I just can't help but wonder if their heart should have been somewhere else.