Wicker Man - (Region A Import Blu-ray Disc)
Starring Nicolas Cage et al
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Victor, South Africa. 13 July 2014
Don't go into the woods is an admonition that should be heeded not just by prepubescent girls but also by actors. Nicolas Cage's finest hours are not spent frantically running through a forest in "The Wicker Man," especially when he must do so dressed in a bear suit. The reason for his laughable getup has to do with a pagan ritual portentously known as the Day of Death and Rebirth.
The movie itself is a kind of rebirth, or remake, as they say in the biz. The original 1973 version has become a cult classic. It is totally creepy, while the new model, while well intentioned, is only occasionally so. It's hard to sustain a scary mood when suddenly something unintentionally funny happens, such as Cage's cell phone ringing in a desolate area where reception would be highly unlikely.
He plays California Highway Patrolman Edward Walus. That he's a good cop is immediately established when he stops to pick up a doll dropped along the road and deliver it to its owner, a blond youngster riding with her mom, all their belongings tied to the top of a broken-down station wagon as if they were Okies. Unfortunately, his good deed leads to their vehicle being slammed into and them going up in flames. Consumed with guilt at his inability to save them, Edward takes an extended leave and sits mindlessly in front of his TV popping pills.
Then a letter arrives from a former girlfriend (Kate Beahan), begging him to find her daughter, who has gone missing on a private island in the Pacific Northwest. Packing heat, his police badge and an audiotape of a self-help book called "Everything's OK," Edward rushes off to the rescue.
The most substantial change writer-director Neil LaBute has made to the original is to change the predominant gender on the island, which is called Summersisle and is inhabited by modern-day pagans. Where men once ruled, women are now in charge. Perhaps LaBute is trying to make amends for his first film, "In the Company of Men," generally considered to be misogynistic.
The women address one another as "sister" and dress in prim blouses and long skirts like Chloe Sevigny in "Big Love." Many of them are with child, which immediately raises the question of where the community keeps its stallions.
To his credit, LaBute has put to work several fine actresses, such as Molly Parker as the community's schoolteacher, Francis Conroy as its physician and Ellen Burstyn as the leader of the pack, who goes by Sister Summersisle. The best scene is when Edward goes to her mansion to confront her about the fate of the missing girl. Burstyn establishes the No. 1 sister's power by never raising her voice above a whisper. Edward is at something of a disadvantage because he's getting over an attack by a swarm of bees. The island's main industry is making honey, which allows for some creepy images of residents in beekeeper masks.
LaBute has never been a particularly visual director. But he does a credible job of capturing Summersisle at various hours of the day, using the oncoming darkness to establish a sense of foreboding. Also effective is the use of black and white for Edward's frequent flashbacks to the car accident that continues to haunt him.
But LaBute's usually keen ear for dialogue -- he's become quite a successful playwright -- often fails him. Cage has been given a number of ludicrous lines, which he does his best to deliver with some believability. Trying to establish his authority, Edward keeps boasting about how he's a police officer there on official business, when he's far removed from his jurisdiction. His sarcasm talking to the "sisters" doesn't work.
The gaping plot hole is why Edward would remain on the island without trying to enlist help when it's so clear something very strange is going on. The surprise ending is pretty predictable even for those who haven't seen the far superior first "Wicker Man."
Region A - Includes most North, Central and South American countries and South-east Asian countries including the Republic of China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.