The most surprising part about The Wicker Man is that it has a couple of very interesting cameos scattered throughout. Aaron Eckhart is there fairly early on, and James Franco and Jason Ritter show up right near the end. The appearances by these actors actually made me pay attention, and if more cameos would have been thrown in during the second act, I might have been entertained throughout. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all, and instead we just have to sit through a routine thriller for most of the time.
The film stars Nicolas Cage in a drearily unimpressive role. He’s a policeman named Edward who, in the opening scene, sees a woman and child get hit by a car and explode, even though their bodies are never found. He takes time off from his job as a result, as he’s suffering from depression and hallucinations. Soon enough, he receives a letter from his former fiancée, Willow (Kate Beahan), who explains that she moved back home and that her daughter is missing — and nobody can help her except Edward, because we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise.
Of course, he heads to the island to help her out. It’s here where things get kind of weird. The island, which is technically part of the state of Washington, doesn’t function like we would assume. It’s very misandric, with men being subservient to women, used only for breeding purposes. The women all identify each other as “sister,” and the bees are everywhere. Edward, allergic to bees, doesn’t like this. All of the residents are also very reluctant to help, and as Willow warns, they’re lying to him at every turn.
This is all supposed to be scary. This Wicker Man is a remake of the 1973 British film, and in that one, the island was kind of scary. There was a religious aspect regarding the main character and his Christianity and the island inhabitants’ Paganism, and you genuinely feared for this guy’s life. You didn’t know how far the strangers would go to dissuade him from finding the child, and the odd rituals and general habits were kind of creepy.
Here, they’re silly. The film has been stripped of the religious aspect in favor of including a battle of the sexes which goes nowhere. There’s no real reason for anything that happens on the island apart from it trying to be kind of creepy. But it doesn’t ever really scare or even creep you out. The only marginally scary moments come from whenever the bees get involved, but I only felt that way because they appeared to be under some sort of mind control, always targeting the exposed skin of Edward even if he did nothing to provoke them. They acted more like wasps than bees, and as most of you know, wasps are not to be taken lightly.
Oh, right, Ellen Burstyn gets second billing despite only appearing in a handful of scenes in the film’s second half. She’s in the Christopher Lee role, here playing a character named Sister Summersisle, who is treated like a deity. She’s a cartoon character, really, and while she’s kind of funny, I think the filmmakers were going for more of a subdued menace which didn’t come through. When she first has a conversation with Edward, she’s supposed to be slowly building our suspense, like she might leap out at him at any moment. But I was laughing more frequently than not.
Everything in this movie is so dry and dull that it’s hard to sit through. It’s not even that it’s particularly uninteresting or terribly made — it just doesn’t have a shred of originality or intrigue that helps keep your attention. Most of the film just has Nic Cage moving from house to forest to house, sometimes in the daylight, sometimes at night, rarely ever actually accomplishing something or discovering a clue. It takes him more than half the film to figure out something that was pretty much told to him.
And then there are these flashbacks that end up leading nowhere, as well as a “twist” in the middle that raises at least one question that never gets answered. I gave up. The Wicker Man wore me down, and by the end, I was watching just to get through it. I’ve been told that the ending is supposed to come as a shock, and while it is a twist, I thought it was fairly predictable. I’m being jaded, probably, but I don’t see it being that much of a surprise to a large portion of the audience.
Not even Nicolas Cage, an actor who frequently brings a lot of energy to roles that might be better if they were subdued, can ignite The Wicker Man. He’s dull and wooden here, save for in one scene that was cut from the theatrical release and only reinserted back into the DVD. For the rest of the picture, he can’t even gather enough energy to appear like he’s caring. Whether this was a paycheck movie or director Neil LaBute just wasn’t doing a good job at coaxing a strong performance, we’ll probably never know, but we can see a lifeless Nic Cage for 90 minutes if you watch The Wicker Man.
Contrary to what you might have heard, I don’t think The Wicker Man is worth watching. I’ve heard people describe it as fun movie because it’s so bad, but from where I’m sitting, it’s just dull. It has lifeless performances, a stock plot, and two twists which barely matter, one of which actually hampers the film. There isn’t any fun to be had here, even though it’s competently made. Go watch the original instead, and let this one be sacrificed to the movie gods.