Film & DVD Review: The Wicker Man (2006)

Directed by Neil LaBute. Certificate 12A; 102 minutes

Plot Outline: A cop who investigates the disappearance of a young girl from a small island discovers there’s a larger mystery to solve among the island’s secretive, neo-pagan community.

Sometimes film masterpieces are better left as they are. Neil LaBute’s ‘tribute’ to the 1973 British classic is a perfect demonstration of this maxim. It’s a real pity as the cinematography in the aerial shots of the beehive area and the crowd scene prior to the film’s fiery dénouement are superb. The natural beauty of Summersisle in widescreen will impress everyone. The shame is that the film is pretty dreadful.

Nicholas Cage is Edward Malus, a troubled cop who is traumatised by his inability in a pre-title sequence to rescue a child trapped in a burning car. In this vulnerable state he is persuaded in a letter by his old flame Willow Woodward to come to the isolated little island community where she lives to find her missing daughter, Rowan.

Malus bribes a local seaplane owner to take him to the island, where he receives a frosty welcome from the local sisterhood and their strangely silent menfolk. No-one has ever seen or heard of Rowan. His attempts to find out anything about her are frustrated at every turn.

Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn) runs the agrarian island community, where they produce organic honey. Sister Summersisle runs the place like a Queen Bee.

The whole thing seems quite pointless in comparison to the 1973 original. Cage’s character goes on about ‘the law’ but has no real point of difference with the island community – just his frustration that they are hiding something from them. In the end his fiery death as ‘a willing sacrifice’ in the wicker man is pointless. He just dies screaming in agony.

In comparison Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) in the original Wicker Man came to the island as a representative of the Crown but also as a conservative evangelical Christian. He was repelled by what he regarded as the blasphemous pagan religious practices; he struggled against erotic temptation in the form of Willow, the landlord’s extremely attractive daughter (Britt Ekland). He told Lord Summerisle, (Christopher Lee) ‘I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ.’ Lee’s character replied, ‘That is good, for believing what you do, we confer upon you a rare gift, these days – a martyr’s death.’

Howie goes to his death singing the twenty-third psalm as the pagan revelers sing one of their harvest songs. LaBute’s film misses this clash of civilizations entirely.

By all means watch this film in the cinema or hire out the DVD from your local video shop. Save your hard-earned cash for the director’s cut double DVD of the original film

Speaking of the double-disc DVD version of the original Wicker Man starring Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward and Britt Ekland, this is now available at most record shops and even in some supermarkets at a reasonable price. At least the release of the remake has kindled some interest in the superior British product, once voted by Empire magazine as the best British horror film ever. The first disc carries the original theatrical version, an interview with Christopher Lee and a 35-minute documentary as well as some trailers for the film. Disc Two restores some lost footage in a director’s cut together with a full-length commentary from Lee, Woodward and the director, Robin Hardy.

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